Merchants, city officials fight economic leakage

Published 2:48 pm Thursday, November 6, 2008

Economic leakage in the county is a problem and some business owners gathered to come up with ideas to stop it.

A meeting held Monday evening attempted to get some public input to prompt people to shop Picayune. At the meeting, mostly business owners showed up to share their thoughts.

Local business owner Debbie Galliano said while Picayune Main Street does all it can to bring people in and keep locals shopping in Picayune, most shoppers like stores that stay open later and patronize restaurants where they can have a drink. She said allowing alcohol into the city would bring better restaurants to increase the tax base.

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According to a study conducted in 2007 by Claritas, about $2.1 billion in economic leakage is leaving this county as residents shop in surrounding areas. Those figures show that about $61.5 million is leaving the county as residents spend money on motor vehicles and parts. About $56.3 million is spent in food and beverage store sales ($6.4 million in beer, wine and liquor sales). About $40.7 million is lost to electronics stores, mail order houses, vending machine operators and direct selling establishments, according to the information provided at the meeting.

The dominant topic at the meeting was whether to let liquor sales become part of the commerce in Picayune. Many arguments were made that allowing liquor sales in the city will increase the tax base by bringing in new businesses. Michael Christovich, a local car dealership owner, said beer could be used as an example that Picayune will not become total chaos.

“Did beer all of a sudden make everybody crazy (when it became legal)?,” Christovich said.

Chamber of Commerce Director Gina Burgess said there are too many churches on every corner of Picayune that would not let liquor become legal.

Christovich said he attempted to get a franchise to put in a Nissan dealership here in town, but the company looks for things that Picayune does not have, such as restaurants that spawn mini malls for one. There appears to be a public perception that if restaurants come into town that sell liquor then there will be mass drunkenness.

Burgess said liquor should be of minor concern considering it only amounted to about $6 million in sales leakage. However, Christovich argued that without liquor, those other businesses will not locate in the city.

Resident Paula Egler said if those other businesses are able to locate here, not only will it help provide new places to eat and bring in more taxes, but young people would have more places to work. Local business owner Carolyn Terry agreed that there is currently little in the city to keep young people around. With other places offering more for them to do, they relocate shortly after receiving an education and begin pursuing jobs.

Councilman Leavern Guy agreed that liquor is the draw for other businesses to locate in Picayune.

“It’s free will and the right to choose,” Christovich said.

Other ideas to bring more shopping to Picayune came from Melinda Shaw, of Melinda’s Fine Gifts. She suggested reserving business space in the Main Street area for retail shops rather than using it for office space. This would prompt more people to walk around the area and shop at other stores. Such stores could include an ice cream parlor, antique shop and book store, she said.