Since the economy collapsed a few years ago, Villa Rica officials report they’ve maintained a healthy roster of commercial businesses. In fact, even though every year when business licenses come due for renewal the average number of Villa Rica businesses drops from just over 700 to about 650, by the end of the year the number has recovered to again hover around 700.
This stability has been bolstered by several new business people who for one reason or another have decided to launch a new business, despite an economy that is still struggling to recover.
One such entrepreneur is Tiffany Powers, who opened the used bookstore Books by Design in the downtown district in August 2010. Though she opened right in the heart of the poor economy having never run her own business, she’s managed to stay afloat thus far.
“We’ve definitely been around during the poor economy and we’re surviving,” she said.
When Powers graduated with an interior design degree from the University of Georgia in May 2010 she was faced with a bleak job market. Though she knew it was a poor time to start a business, with parents who were longtime entrepreneurs in Temple she decided to create a job for herself by opening her own business a few months later.
“I had a background in it to help me get started and the job market elsewhere was kind of difficult to break into for recent college graduates,” she said. “I had a little extra spring break money saved up so I just decided to start my own business.”
The hardest part thus far for Powers has been the delicate balancing act of finding a way to get people in the door without going overboard with advertising. She’s relied a lot on word-of-mouth, social media and a little bit of mainstream media advertising mixed in along the way.
In addition to a tough economy, as a book store Books by Design must also compete with newer reading technology such as Kindles and Nooks. Books and other types of disposable income are also usually the hardest hit when the economy goes bad.
Powers is optimistic that as the summer picks up she will begin to see the some benefit from the Borders book store closing in Douglasville last fall. Since winter is traditional her slowest season, this will be the first summer she hasn’t had to compete with the now-defunct retail book chain for people looking for their vacation reading material.
Kyler Hembree, an art teacher at South Paulding Middle School, didn’t let the economy stop her from realizing her dream to open her own art studio for all ages. She opened the doors to Local Color on Main Street this week with a summer art camp for ages four through 19 that will run through June and will begin evening classes for students in late August. She will also offer adult paint nights on Friday nights throughout the summer.
“I just want to share my love of art with kids,” she said. “In publics schools, there are a lot of kids who don’t want to be there. They’re there because they have to be, but I thought if I had my own art business the kids who came would want to be there and would really love to make art. I really want to surround myself by kids who have a passion for it like I do.”
Though Hembree will continue to teach school, she hopes the art studio will one day become her full-time job.
“Right now, it’s just on the side, but eventually I’d like for it to be a full-time job,” she said. “I guess it is a little scary, but I’ve got the good Lord behind me, so I’ve got a great feeling about it. I’m really, really excited.”
Hembree is relying heavily on word-of-mouth advertising, though she canvassed the area with flyers at local businesses and schools to stir interest in the art studio from prospective customers.
“I don’t think the economy played a large factor in me starting this at all; I’ve just always wanted to do it,” she said. “I’d like to have a big artists’ resort one day.”
Unlike Powers and Hembree, Michael Clanton, owner of Chat & Choo in downtown Villa Rica, had some experience before he opened his restaurant last fall. Though he’d never owned his own business, he’s worked in the restaurant industry all his life.
“I’m not getting any younger,” he said. “Really it was a no-brainer because I’ve been doing it all my life for somebody else and the opportunity presented itself to do it on my own. Yeah, it was scary, especially in this economy, but it was a chance I wanted to take.”
Clanton admitted that it’s been a challenge, but even in this poor economy he’s fared better than he thought he would due to a loyal following the restaurant has developed in a short amount of time. Word-of-mouth has helped and he know boasts regular clientele from not only Villa Rica, but surrounding communities as well.
“I know we’re not going to get rich and set the world on fire with 42 chain restaurants, but I also know that I can be comfortable and I’m driving the boat,” he said.
The restaurant serves breakfast and lunch, even boasting a wait on Sundays, and it’s been so successful Clanton plans to offer some dinner nights in the future. He’s also considering branching out into catering and private parties.
“We’re not where we need to be, but when we started out we had a plan and we said we were going to stick with that plan for six months,” Clanton said. “Now, we’re more than six months into it and I’ve got a little better handle of things and we’re all a little more comfortable in our own skin, so we might try some new stuff.”