Cave Spring economy depends on tourists
“Quaint” is a word that frequently comes to mind when people think of Cave Spring. Downtown Development Director Sandra Lindsey likes that — but “thriving” is the word she’d really like associated with the historic small town in southern Floyd County.
“Remembering the past, improving the present, and building a strong future. Making available resources that encourage growth and prosperity while improving the quality of life,” is the DDA’s mission statement.
Lindsey is the first to admit that there are still a few too many empty storefronts downtown. There are also a number of buildings that could use some tender loving care.
“Unfortunately we do have vacancies. What people are looking for when they come to Cave Spring is, they are still looking for antiques,” Lindsey said. “People who have known Cave Spring in the past know that at one time we had a lot of antiques, and we still have antiques — but not as many as we did at one time.”
Christa Grant has operated Christa’s, a gifts and antiques shop, for 27 years. “My business is great,” Grant said. “I have found my niche and I make a lot of my own stuff.”
Grant believes the only types of retail shops that can make a go of it in Cave Spring are specialty shops. She said the residents would like more traditional outlets such as a women’s clothing store, but the population isn’t large enough to support one — especially when it would be competing with major chain discounters in Rome, Cedartown or Centre, Alabama.
“A lot of them, to save a dollar on something, they’ll drive to Home Depot and use all that gas. But now they’re complaining because the hardware store is gone,” Grant said to illustrate her point.
John Johnston, a member of the DDA board, said the community needs
more niche businesses.
“Standard vendors have too much competition and we’re off the beaten path.” Johnston said. “But we have a wonderful amount of square footage available in a great place for people with a niche merchandising idea.”
A town like Cave Spring really depends on tourism, Grant said, and, luckily, a main highway runs through the downtown district.
“U.S. 411 is the most wonderful customer base there is,” she said. “This time of year, leading up to Christmas, business is really good for me.”
Rip Montgomery owns The Peddler, another antiques and collectibles shop. He said the city has some prime locations that are open and need to be filled.
“I think the more we have here the more it’s going to draw people back to Cave Spring,” he said. Montgomery said the loss of Country Cousins was a big blow to the community because the boutique’s Vera Bradley and Brighton accessories drew a lot of women shoppers.
Several restaurants around the downtown square also have closed recently — including the Cave Spring Cafe, the Creekside Restaurant and the Fun Days Deli — although Linde Marie’s Steakhouse on the Square has been a success in recent years.
Lindsey said that a lot of her emphasis as DDA director has been on bringing in a broad variety of retail shops that have their own unique flair.
“We would like to be a little shopping destination,” she said.
In years gone by, she said, people drove in just to visit Country Cousins and Martha Jane’s Fudge, and “that’s what I would like to see again.”
She and the chairman of the DDA board recently attended a Georgia Department of Community Affairs workshop that reinforced the importance of small, specialty merchandisers.
Arts and recreation
The DDA is also taking steps they hope will lead to a renaissance of the city as an arts and cultural crossroads of Northwest Georgia. More recently, the city is beginning to focus on drawing visitors for recreation.
Montgomery believes there is an opportunity for someone to do something with some of the buildings on the old Georgia School for the Deaf campus a few blocks off the square — although it would have to be the right proposition.
“I don’t think that (distance) is totally bad, but one of the things I looked at when I opened mine was three things. Location, location, location,” Montgomery said. “Being on the square is vital, I think, to a business being able to thrive.”
However, the old GSD campus might be particularly attractive as an arts center, he said.
“The buildings are not too far gone but they will take a little bit of work,” Montgomery said.
Lindsey said that the DDA in Cave Spring is in the same position as Rome’s DDA to make available low-interest state loans to buy and rehabilitate buildings.
“Some of the buildings are not that attractive anymore, and I think that’s really a goal of the DDA is to get those unsightly properties fixed up,” Lindsey said.
So far, though, the loan program hasn’t been tapped. Lindsey said a number of the established businesses, such as Christa’s, were in place before there was a DDA. And although Montgomery was one of the DDA’s founders, he didn’t take advantage of the loan programs when he bought his buildings.
Jerry Maschinot, a photographer, moved to Cave Spring from downtown Atlanta almost 20 years ago. He said he’s just not sure about the potential for success of the artists cooperative that is in the development stage at the former Chrome Cowboy location on the square in Cave Spring.
“You try it and hopefully it works,” Maschinot said.
He operated a studio in Atlanta for six or seven years after he moved to Cave Spring but has since moved everything to Cave Spring.
Bringing more businesses to Cave Spring may require getting more tourists into the town.
“We need more tourism and this is why we’re so excited about the possibility of being able to tie Cave Spring to the Silver Comet Trail in Cedartown,” said Tom Lindsey, chairman of the DDA and a relative of Sandra Lindsey.
He said some businesses along the Swamp Rabbit Trail between Greenville and Travelers Rest, South Carolina, have seen an increase of up to 85 percent in their trade.
“If we can get anywhere close to that it will be fantastic for Cave Spring,” he said.
A feasibility study for the connection to the Silver Comet Trail was completed earlier this year. That study produced three route options ranging from 11 miles to 19 miles in length. Consultants are recommending its construction in four phases as funding becomes available.
The consultants’ report projects the cost for developing the connection from Cedartown to Cave Spring at a little more than $9.1 million. However, the study reports that the return on investment for trail projects nationally ranges from $3 to $12 for every dollar invested.