First Posted: 3/27/2009
Mount Airy has many good qualities, but there is one thing I definitely would alter if declared king of this town: issue a royal decree requiring businesses to stay open later hours and during weekends.
Much has been said recently about the value of tourism locally, especially as it relates to the Mayberry phenomenon, and I do believe our connection to Andy Griffith is a great thing.
Certainly it is better to have that distinction than not to have it, as I am sure there are many other communities that would love to trade places with us in this regard. I agree with some who say that tourism is not THE answer for us economically yet it is one answer in what should be a diverse solution.
However, it seems to me that if were going to position ourselves as some sort of tourist Mecca, then we should maximize all the possibilities with that segment. And when you look around downtown Mount Airy and other areas in town in the early evening hours and see mostly dark storefronts and Closed signs flashing, then were not doing that, are we?
Part of the problem is what I affectionately call the 5 OClock Syndrome. The majority of people here simply just dont want to work past 5 p.m., as if that were specified in a big rule book somewhere.
Its like a giant invisible ray shoots down from the heavens every day at that time and forces people in offices, stores and garages to drop everything theyre doing and march out in unison not unlike those cute penguins at Antarctica.
Theres an old saying around our newsroom, that if you dont catch up to certain people before the magical witching hour of 5 oclock if you need their input for a story, then you wont get them.
On Saturdays the witching hour is noon. Everything that didnt shut down Friday at 5 p.m. does so at that time. And what about Sunday? As the Mafia types say: Forget about it!
Of course, its understandable that governmental offices cease operations at 5 during the week we honestly cant expect something so cruel and unusual as a person paid with taxpayer dollars staying until 5:01, can we?
But what amazes me is how those in many non-governmental operations shut the doors in paying customers faces and head to their barns. No matter what kind of product or service you might need, or how critical it might be, it is just not available after a certain time.
For example, try to get a flat tire fixed or anything else done in the automotive line after 5 p.m. The lube center at Wal-Mart is the only exception I can think of, and even it is never open later than 7 p.m.
I have done business with most of the auto-repair establishments around town, and there is almost always a big group of people ahead of you, indicating a healthy demand for their services. (Its either that, or I have the worst timing in the world.)
Imagine what would happen if our garages and tire places stayed open until Oh my God, how radical! 8 p.m.? Im sure the world wouldnt come to an end as a result, and instead people who cant get needed auto services done during the day because of their schedules would have an outlet for doing so at night.
Meanwhile, this would provide more jobs for people possessing mechanical skills, and businesses even could run two shifts, realizing greater profits.
I used automotive operations as an example, but the same thing could be applied to clothing stores, gift shops and many other retailers around town if they expanded their schedules on both evenings and weekends.
Stay open and they will come might be as true as if you build it, they will come, but we wont know until we try. I think if nothing else, the state of our economy dictates some imagination and doing things differently than we have in the past.
Earlier this month, the city of Reidsville launched an experiment in which many of its downtown merchants have begun remaining open until 8 p.m. every Thursday.
Were staying open late to try to create our own economic-stimulus package, the owner of a paint store said at a recent city council meeting. In downtown Reidsville, people can now in addition to buying paint visit an art gallery, shop for clothes, see movies, eat at cafes, visit florist and gift shops and also patronize toy, bicycle and sporting arms shops.
Getting back to tourism, longer hours also are certainly a factor with it, because if you look at places that have been REALLY successful in drawing visitors such as Asheville theyve done so with the help of nighttime attractions as well as daytime.
One can even go to a place like Floyd, Va., on a Friday or Saturday night which is much smaller than Mount Airy and find several high-quality venues for live musical performances. And so far I havent heard of anyone getting killed at any of them in drunken brawls or shootings.
If Mount Airy is indeed serious about its tourism potential, logic dictates we are missing out on a big piece of the benefits by rolling up our sidewalks at 5 p.m. and literally running off those who do want to spend $$$$.
I suggest that people in the local business community rethink their scheduling and other approaches, and in the words of Monty Python offer something completely different. This might be too much to expect from a town often criticized for being overly set in its ways but its nice to dream anyway.
Tom Joyce is a staff reporter for The Mount Airy News. He can be reached at [email protected] or 719-1924.