Street Talk

Water Valley’s Retail Sales Buck The Trend

By Mickey Howley

How many times have you heard the expression, “Its all about the money?” Last week’s front page of this paper was certainly so. The top article was on BorgWarner bringing people back in to build parts as car sales have improved. Also on the front page was a notice of the city’s budget hearing, with Mayor Hart still very positive despite a small projected shortfall due to declining property taxes.

Then there was another article about Yalobusha county shopping around for a better price on picking up deceased individuals. I’d like to keep my distance from that issue. For Main Street, the biggest front-page news last week was the countywide increase in retail sales, which were up 10 percent in the last fiscal year (July 08 though June 09). Let me yell that “Up 10 Percent,” do you hear that?!

And, sorry to say the state of Mississippi was down as a whole by 3.5%. All five neighboring counties were also down. Here are the figures: our rich cousins to the north in Lafayette were down 0.4%. Calhoun down 2.5%, Grenada down 8.2%, Panola down 9.1%, Tallahatchie down 15.5%. Look, it is really bad form to gloat on someone else’s tough luck, but between the gas crisis of last summer and the economy nose diving in the fall, Yalobushans pulled off a “buy local” economic miracle.  Going up 10 percent in retail sales in a down economy is almost unheard of.

So, what did it? Some of it, I guess, was the high fuel prices of last summer; four dollars a gallon made one think twice about driving far. But gas fell to well under two bucks a gallon by the end of October, so that is not the whole reason. Many people were cutting back purchasing as the economy plummeted in the fall, so spending on big ticket items in Batesville, Oxford, Tupelo and Memphis dropped off, and maybe Yalobushans bought more locally.

Here are some of the numbers: retail sales were $68.7 million dollars for Yalobusha as whole last year, with an increase of $6.5 million dollars from the year before. I know from our 2009 Planning Charrette that Water Valley alone had $39.6 million in retail sales. But here is the kicker: we spent, in this area, $130 million on overall retail sales. So slightly less than half of our retail dollars are spent outside of our county.  Hang with me here: we captured back 10 percent of the money that had been leaking out and leaving (6.5 million of the 60 something million not normally spent here).  

Here at the Water Valley Main Street Association we’d like to take a little credit for some of this increase. In the last two years we have put out local shopping guides, sponsored shopping promotions, staged downtown events just to bring people downtown, and promoted local businesses.  All the Main Street managers before me — Jessie Gurner, Alexie Van Beuren and Susan Hart — constantly hammered home the mantra of “Buy Local, Buy Local”. I think it is starting to pay off.  This is the beginning of a great trend.

Check out www.the350project.net for a great site on the pluses of buying locally. Of every $100 spent locally with independent retailers, $68 returns to the community through taxes, payroll and other expenditures. If that same money is spent in Lafayette or Lee or DeSoto counties, well, the purchase may come back, but the money leaves. And we have lost it as an economic multiplier.

Last week’s survey had Railroad Park as the favorite park in town, I don’t know, I think all the parks have their own personality. See www.watervalleymainstreet.com for this week’s survey on what new retail business you would like to see downtown.

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