When considering starting a new business it is an intellectually easy exercise to look at what businesses are popular at the moment and think, “I could do one like that.” Perhaps you could, but what history amply demonstrates is that a businesses’ viability may be very brief indeed because of rapid societal change. Examples of businesses that are no long with us include Video Rental, Photo Development and picture magazines, like Look.
If you went back to my childhood in the early 1940s to 2012 when I recorded the audio CD, “My Home Town,” only one store on the town square is still at the same location doing the same business as it did when I was growing up. Big box stores and online sales have largely killed the small town retail trade that I described in the CD. The single remaining store is a family-owned drug store that is one of the few that has not been driven out of business from competition from chain-drugstore companies and even places like WalMart that is seeking to become the go-to place for everything a small-town resident might want – food, drugs, beer, wine, auto repair, health care, glasses, barber shop, etc. all under one roof. Although they have not figured out a way to offer services quite yet, Amazon.com is expanding their offerings to include home delivery of nearly everything, including groceries, in some markets.
Faced with competition with these modern retail giants, it is no wonder that the mom-and-pop stores that were often run by Jewish merchants in the small-town rural South have vanished. Unless you are specialized and can offer your goods to a regional and national audience, your chances of surviving in the retail trade in small town rural Georgia are slim. Eating establishments are being started and failing at a very rapid rate, in competition with the franchised chain eateries, and even those are having trouble in a community with a population base of around 6,000. The Dairy Lane, a privately owned soft-serve ice cream shop and bar-b-que place that was started while I was in grammar school is still going strong serving its signature pork dishes and Brunswick stew, while many other competitors have tried their hands at commercial food service and vanished.
Local oral histories are lost within three generations. To provide both residents and potential newcomers with a feeling of how Sandersville, Georgia, grew from the time it was founded to the present, one morning at 2:00 AM, I took a walk around the town square and recorded what I remembered, and had been told, from my childhood. The town had a large and well-respected medical center on one side of the square and a funeral home on the other side. A person could be born on the square, do business there all his life and when his time came be prepared at the funeral parlor and laid to rest in the graveyard, right off the square. Even in the 1950s were still residents who had lived in Washington County all of their lives and never left the county.
Wars had a tremendous impact on the rural community what was largely started by veterans, widows and dependent children who receiving land grants in recognition of their service during the Revolutionary War. The Civil War saw the town largely burned by Gen. W.T. Sherman’s troops and many nearby plantations destroyed. Many residents served during World War I and even more during World War II. These wars and societal realignments after them resulted in population relocations with blacks relocating to better jobs in the North. Although largely insulated from the Vietnam protest movement, school desegregation greatly impacted the community as a new more-nearly equitable balance between the races was sought in the majority black county.
These challenges were met and the county prospered with rising employment with the local kaolin, China clay, mining industry as trainloads of the clay were mined, processed and shipped out of the county every day. The clay is used in the paper industry to give glossy coatings, to make ceramics, as filler material in rubber and plastics and minor amounts in the cosmetic and drug industries.
These are some of the things that I talked about during my auditory stroll around the town square. You can order copies of “My Home Town” using the Pay Pal button below. I would encourage anyone who has reached what the French term as, “a certain age,” to do something like this to preserve their family’s and community’s history for future generations.
My Home Town Auditory CD
A 30-minute auditory CD relating the history of Sandersville, Georgia, from its founding until 2012.