Written By Gen Fuller
In any small town, you’ll always find one street, one major road lined with local businesses where townspeople gather to watch parades and hang festival lights, to meet old friends for dinner and new acquaintances for drinks. The street is alive with culture and history; it is the pulse of the community, connecting locals and enchanting those lucky enough to visit: Main Street America.
Savannah, the Hostess City of the South, has too much style, too much grace, and way too much flare for such a mundane name as Main Street, but the iconic, locally-owned business lined street image is alive and well, not just on Broughton Street (our Main Street equivalent), but throughout the downtown area.
“You don’t go to Downtown Savannah to shop at Kohl’s and Target. You come to shop with people you know and love and trust,” says Travis Sawyer, COO of Creative Approach, a print and graphic design shop.
And Savannahians love local. We love our local honey from the Savannah Bee Company, and our local sweet treats from Back in the Day Bakery; we love our local beer from Southbound and Moon River, and we love the array of locally owned restaurants that populate our streets.
Savannah is simply bursting at the seams with locally owned shops, from tea and coffee to clothing and shoes to art galleries and jewelry. People from all over the world fall in love with Savannah for its eclectic mix of architecture, history and art, and for the fierce pride Savannahians have for their city, which keeps them shopping local.
“When you shop with your community, you better your neighborhood and nonprofits,” explains Sawyer of a belief at the core of Creative Approach. “Small business gives back to their community. I know whenever anybody is having an event in town the first thing they think of is getting posters and flyers to get information out in people’s hands, and we’re one of the first asked for sponsorships, especially from non-profit organizations.”
True to their word, Creative Approach frequently works with the American Diabetes Association, American Cancer Society, Leukemia Foundation, the Rape Crisis Center, American Red Cross and the Savannah Art March. In December 2014, they hosted several panels of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, displaying it for one weekend in their shop, free of charge and open to the public.
“We take pride in our community, in our customers, and so we try to give back to them as much as we can,” he says. “We’re a small business that shops and promotes small business. It’s what keeps the economic machine we know in Savannah going.”
That economic machine is also responsible for the continued revitalization of the downtown area. With the addition of several large businesses on Broughton Street, small business may seem like they have more competition, but while those big names draw people in, it’s small business that keeps them here.
“The big-name stores play a role in helping smaller businesses survive, but a community can’t depend on them to revitalize an area. We bought this building and brought it back to life,” Sawyer says of their location on Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd., which they opened in 2012, a far cry from the garden level apartment he and co-founder Cale Hall started out in back in October 2004. “Look at The Grey – that building sat empty for, wow, about 12 years now that I think of it. But that’s small business. Paddy O’Shea’s is a small business. They’ve moved in and made it nicer.”
Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. took a down turn in the 90s and early 2000s, but thanks to small businesses like Creative Approach and their new neighbors, Hops & Barley, slowly but surely buildings are being renovated and revitalized.
“Corporate America is good for revitalizing to a certain level, but it’s more important for small business owners and people that are part of the community to step up and revitalize their neighborhood,” says Sawyer. “I mean, look at the beautiful Popeye’s and Wendy’s and Burger King over here – they look great for a midtown dump.”
Shopping local also enables businesses to hire local talent, like Molly Talbot, Project Manager at Creative Approach.
“Local companies give you more attainable goals and deadlines – their expectations are more realistic,” explains Talbot of her switch from corporate America to small business. “You have a voice here. It’s also why I shop local, because I know my money is better appreciated, and it stays within the city I live in.”