Business is booming in Pierce County.
Local option sales tax (LOST) revenues are up nearly 16 percent over last year and 22 percent over 2019. New businesses are opening their doors, others are expanding and store owners say keeping inventory stocked is their biggest challenge these days.
“March was the best month I’ve ever, ever had … It beat all of my December (sales),” says Claire Larson, owner of 84 West, a Blackshear boutique. “It was a great month here.”
Local grocery and hardware stores saw a big spike in business last Spring during the pandemic. Things are leveling out now, but business is still strong.
“It’s (business) been pretty good since January,” says Bill Wall, owner of Wall’s IGA. “We did see a spike during the pandemic last April and May. Everybody was kinda going crazy.”
Larson has seen steady revenue growth since she opened the store seven years ago — even through the pandemic — but she’s now ready to expand. 84 West recently moved into a building with twice the square footage at the corner of S. Central Avenue and Main Street (across from Gibson McDonald). She’ll expand her inventory gradually with gift items and men’s apparel.
New boutiques, coffee shops and restaurants are popping up every week it seems. Blackshear has issued 19 business licenses so far this year — compared to a typical average of five per year — and Patterson has issued 11. Pierce County has issued 24 licenses since January of this year, as compared to 40 for all of 2020.
“Ten years ago we had nowhere to shop and now people are opening new businesses every week,” Larson says.
At first, Larson was concerned about too many local competitors affecting her profit margins, but she says more businesses have actually helped draw in shoppers from neighboring towns, particularly Alma, Jesup and Baxley.
“If it’s done anything, I think it’s helped because more people are shopping locally,” Larson says. “I think it’s really putting Blackshear on the map.”
Fifth & Timber is one of Blackshear’s newest clothing stores. Brittany Weathersby opened her doors on Keller Street in March, selling both women and men’s clothing.
“Fifth & Timber has been open since March 13, and has exceeded our expectations,” Weathersby says. “Our brick and mortar location has been well received by the community and we are now planning the launch of our website.”
Weathersby has been planning to open an apparel store for years, researching the business and carefully selecting clothing brands, she says.
“2021 was the right year to make Fifth & Timber a reality,” Weathersby says.
Larson is still struggling with slow inventory shipping times which she suspects is related to the nationwide hiring shortage.
Wall agrees there’s still a lag in grocery inventory, too.
“It’s better than it was last year. Probably not as good as it was in 2019 before the pandemic, but it’s getting better slowly,” Wall told The Times.
City and county officials were pleasantly surprised to see a 16 percent increase in LOST revenues last March during the weeks of coronavirus shutdown, attributing the news to a shift toward local shopping as residents stayed close to home. At the time, County Manager Jason Rubenbauer pointed to the grocery store run on toilet paper and other staples and an uptick in alcohol sales.
The trend towards shopping locally appears to have continued into 2021, but officials and business owners point out the ongoing boost in profits and sales tax revenues is probably related to stimulus funds and tax returns residents have recently received.
“Based on the recent influx of stimulus funds, this data is not surprising,” Rubenbauer says. “I am happy to see many are still buying local and continue to encourage everyone to stay and shop in Pierce County and support our local businesses as this continues to help support our local economy.”
After reviewing the Dept. of Revenues’ recent sales tax commodity report for special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST) collections, the county manager notes general merchandise and “other retail” sectors have reported the largest boosts in SPLOST revenue over last year at 22 and 28 percent, respectively. Food and bars sales tax revenues are up 12 percent and the home furnishings sector up more than 15 percent. The automotive sector reported a 5.67 percent increase.
“Our collections for the year in sales tax revenues are up approximately $71,000 over January through March of last year,” Rubenbauer estimates.
While those percentage increases may not translate dollar for dollar, Rubenbauer suspects the same trends hold true for the LOST boost because sales tax revenues are all generated from the same source — the point of sale at a business in town.
Editor’s Note: Data for this story was pulled from LOST distribution reports posted by the Department of Revenue. SPLOST, TSPLOST and ESPLOST reports were not included in The Times’ calculations.
Where does my 8 cents go?
When Pierce Countians make purchases at any local store, they pay 8 cents sales tax. Here’s how it breaks down:
Four cents goes to the State of Georgia, but one cent comes back to Pierce as the local option sales tax (LOST)
One cent goes to the special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST) which is distributed to the county and city governments and funds a variety of capital improvement projects
One cent goes to the transportation local option sales tax (TSPLOST) to help fund road improvements and paving projects
One cent goes to the education local option sales tax (ELOST) which is distributed to the Board of Education to fund school projects and expenses.