Chamber, Downtown Association still pushing shop local


Eastern Arizona Courier Article by Brooke Curley

The sales tax numbers for Graham County, Safford, and Thatcher are climbing. However, now is not the time to lift the foot from the pedal, Chamber and Downtown Association leaders said.

June’s sales taxes of $377,610 were the highest for the past 12 months, Thatcher Town Manager Heath Brown announced last week.

According to the City of Safford, June’s sales taxes were $737,794. Last June they were $592,189

Danny Smith, Downtown Association president and Graham County supervisor, noticed Graham county sales tax numbers are higher despite stay-at-home and other executive orders.

“The interesting thing to me is that despite the executive orders, the state is still up 5 percent over last year. Within those numbers, however, there are certain industries like hotel and restaurants that are way down,” wrote Smith, in an email on Friday.

“Locally, our Graham County one-half cent sales tax in April 2020 was $12,000 more than March 2020 sales tax. May 2020 local one-half cent sales was the highest in Graham County history at about $220,000. The prior highest ever was $214,000,” he said.

When the first wave of the economic impact of COVID-19 hit Graham County, the Downtown Association teamed up with the City of Safford and the Chamber of Commerce to create the Gila Valley Gift Certificate program.

The program was like an emergency room doctor stopping the bleed on an economic open wound of local business, Smith said.

Local businesses who applied for the program were provided up to 300 gift certificates. Those businesses were able to sell $10 certificates to their customers for $6 a piece when customers purchased items from their business. The City of Safford, United Way of Graham & Greenlee Counties, and the Safford Downtown Association provided a $3 subsidy for each ticket sold by a local business.

Online push

Now that the blood has stopped seeping, Smith said the next step is to get the local businesses out doing better than before COVID-19. There are several ideas surrounding the next step, but one is assisting business owners get their businesses online.

“One idea is to have businesses apply for one-on-one coaching, especially if they have no online presence…” said Smith. “We need to keep fighting. We don’t need to take our foot off the gas. Big businesses, they have financing, small business owners don’t have that.”

Amazon has always been a source of competition, he said.

Graham County Chamber of Commerce Director Vance Bryce said the same.

“Local business has a lot to do when it comes to convenience and customer service, and when it comes to competing with Amazon, which was a pre-existing condition,” said Bryce.

E-commerce will be one of the main focuses of the chamber over the next few months, Bryce said. He hopes some local businesses will be willing to come to the chamber for help because the competition with online ordering through Amazon has always been a problem.

“Getting online for the holiday shopping season is something we’re looking at in the next three months,” said Bryce.

Bryce said that the community has to keep moving forward to support local businesses.

“I don’t know if we’d ever stop pushing, or if we’d ever stop taking our foot off the pedal. We want to build wealth here and build a great local economy. It’s always good to buy local first,” said Bryce.

Local business ebbs and flows

Chris Hunt, owner of The Venue in Safford, said she is trying to get by. She provides a venue for weddings and other large gatherings. Because they’ve been postponed to prevent the spread of COVID-19, her business is struggling.

Luckily, she said she owns her building and only has to pay for insurance and utilities. She felt like the gift certificate program wouldn’t assist her business, so she didn’t use it.

“We’re just kind of hanging in space,” said Hunt. “I have some bookings coming up and starting next year there’s hope on the horizon.”

A new business to the valley, Lauri McLain’s Rustic Barn Bakery opened in November in Safford. McLain said the gift certificate program helped bring in business. Already thinking of bringing her business online, she said she has created a Google business page and is currently working with a delivery service for pre-orders.

“We’re trying to work all the angles, it’s amazing. My business is doing really well,” said Mclain.

She said she has expanded and was even able to hire a new employee. In the event of another shutdown, she said she has built in a window so her customers can pick up her baked goodies without setting foot inside the building.

“I’m ready,” Mclain said. “Bring it on, COVID.”

Mixed bag

Lance Shupe, CEO and owner of Gila Valley Polaris and the Gila Outdoor store, in Thatcher said his business income has doubled. On average, his showroom holds roughly 80 to 90 Rangers and Razor all terrain vehicles. Currently he only has 11 of these vehicles in stock. Customers are buying vehicles even before they are shipped to his store.

“Right now we’re the number one Ranger dealer in the western United States,” said Shupe. “People are looking for something to do. And right now it means going out into the hills as a family. I’ve been fortunate. Business has doubled for us; we’re one of the lucky businesses.”

Friendly customer service and the unique situation of COVID-19 is what Shupe says has helped his business grow. He said his business is already online and people from multiple states visit his store to purchase merchandise. However, he also said he was grateful for the local support of his business as well.

For one local photography business in Safford, Holladay’s Photo Emporium, sales are still low. Dale Holladay, who has owned the business for 48 years, said the studio specializes in school portraits and sports portraits. Without school being in session, his business has lost 52 percent of its income.

Using grants and loans to get by, he said that if school doesn’t open in the fall his business will be forced to shut down. He did use the gift certificate program, but he said most of his customers didn’t use them for one reason or another.

“We’re optimistic that they will reopen the school, and if so we’ll recover,” said Holladay.

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