Stover high on downtown
Jim Stover tells the story of a couple who decided they wanted to buy property somewhere in the north Georgia mountains. They were making their way through Gilmer County on their search. “They had pulled over on the side of Old 5 South and were looking at some literature,” said Stover, a local realtor. “The guy said after 12 people stopped by to see if he was OK and needed help, they decided Gilmer County was where they wanted to live.” Stover, who took over the chairmanship of the Downtown Development Authority at the first of the year, spoke recently to the Rotary Club. I asked three questions of him. Outside of the Georgia Apple Festival, we’re seeing a lot of tourists in the downtown area even on the milder days of winter. What draws people to Ellijay? “It’s the citizens, their friendliness,” he said, also mentioning how overly commercial the tourist district in Blue Ridge has become. “The local citizen wants to be helpful, and those days are long gone in populated areas. It’s just so different here. People come here from south Florida or Atlanta, and they’re not used to people sincerely asking, ‘How are you today?’ And they really want to know, and they have time to chat. “People love to come here and just walk around with no particular plan. They have a conversation, and the shop owner or restaurant owner sincerely cares about them, and it shows. That’s just not a sales pitch.” What else is positive in the downtown area? “There are no vacancies,” Stover said of storefronts. “Even the Kay Building (corner of North Main and College streets) has been sold. Nothing has happened to it yet, but there’s different things they want to do with the building; they just haven’t put it out to the public. Besides North Georgia Appliance, I can’t think of any building not being used now. And that’s so much different than three or four years ago. “As the square doesn’t have any more vacancies, things are starting to move outward. With the boardwalk, we were hoping to get the walking traffic to go up North Main and come out at Cornerstone (Cafe), and that’s working well. That also brings people up to The Martyn House, the (Cartecay) bike shop, New Ground Market, Pets on Main – these all happened in the last few years, so we’re growing at a nice pace. But it hasn’t just happened overnight.” What still needs to take place downtown? “Right now we’re not organized,” he said of the DDA and other merchants. “Anytime you bring people together, there’s so many different opinions and motivations that they go in different directions ... DDA’s going to have to organize a group of downtown merchants so we all work together and get more traffic downtown. We’ve had a ‘Come Play in Ellijay’ (catch phrase) and we’ve stuck with that for several years. “People that come out of populated areas like outdoor dining, and we’ve got Cantaberry, the (River Street) Tavern, 1907 (Restaurant), Back Street Bistro – every restaurant has outdoor dining. There’s little things that we can capitalize on ... someone should have the responsibility on the DDA for our promotion of events, to seek out all the free publicity that’s available.” Stover said the support already received from the chamber of commerce, city council and merchants is vital. “Everybody loves Ellijay, and I think we’re getting to the point where we have enough volunteers to get some of this done” he said. “That’s what I’m trying to do.” Mark Millican is news editor of the Times-Courier.