For over 37 years, Georgia Square Mall has been the indoor mall for Athens-Clarke County and surrounding counties.
As reported in The Red & Black, much has changed especially since the Macy’s department store, one of the four main anchor stores of Georgia Square Mall, closed its doors in March of 2017 after 35 years of being at that location.
With anchor stores helping shopping malls to attract shoppers with large, well-known department stores such as JCPenney, Dillards, and Belk, smaller stores can pop up and do fairly well.
Although Macy’s left, Georgia Square Mall still has Belk, Sears, and JCPenney stores.
Still, shopping centers have grown significantly over the last few years. In Georgia, 12 new shopping centers were built from 2016-2017, bringing the total to 4,745, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers.
Kris McWhite, an economics professor at the University of Georgia, said the use of anchor stores has shifted to online shopping.
“Sears started as a mail catalogue for all sorts of stuff, and they and other shopping mall stores have been replaced by the online version of the mail catalogue: Amazon,” McWhite said.
In 2017, Amazon’s net revenue hit $177.9 billion, compared to its 2004 net revenue of $6.9 billion and between 2016-2017, Amazon hit its biggest yearly revenue increase, from $136 billion in 2016 to $177.9 billion in 2017.
Even with Amazon becoming a dominant force in the retail market, a customer’s choice to purchase an item online or in-store all depends on the item's price and length of use.
As it relates to Georgia Square Mall, many new restaurants and shops have opened in the Oconee Connector area instead of the mall due to a lack of interest from locals.
“People aren’t shopping at the mall anymore because there are no good stores. I will occasionally go to Belk, but Macy’s is gone. There’s nothing there; they need to revamp it and start over,” said Jill Benson, a resident of Oconee County for more than 10 years.
Information on the mall’s revenue and profit is unavailable to the public, and the owner of the property did not respond to The Red & Black’s inquiries for that data.
Local residents of Athens have seen the lack of options in the shopping center.
Dwayne Cheney, a lifelong resident of Athens, said, “[Georgia Square Mall] is not like it used to be. A lot of places are moving from there to Oconee County. A lot of businesses are filtering over there, maybe for tax incentives. It’s just going to be a big, empty lot in the upcoming years.”
Cheney believes that within a few years businesses at Georgia Square Mall will stop renewing their leases, people will not have a reason to go to the mall and, it will eventually close down permanently.
With the closing of a popular store like Macy’s, local Athenians and those from surrounding counties have seen how many businesses are going to the Oconee Connector and Epps Bridge area in Oconee County.
Rachel Brackett from Loganville, who has come to Georgia Square Mall for over a decade, said she has noticed its decline.
“It has gotten run down, and I don’t feel safe when I’m around here. I feel like it’s going to close,” Brackett said.
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With the turkey being the main menu item in a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner, it is no wonder
Campus Kitchen at the University of Georgia and the Athens Community Council on Aging held ‘Turkeypalooza,’ an event that helped nearly 300 families secure a turkey and other traditional fixings.
Described as a seasonal event that “provides holiday groceries and meals to older adult families and homebound individuals,” Turkeypalooza is necessary.
As reported recently in The Red & Black, according to the Campus Kitchen website, 1 in 5 residents of Athens-Clarke County are at risk of hunger. In order to tackle this issue during the holiday season, Turkeypalooza collected canned foods from halloween until Thursday, Nov. 15th.
Turkeypalooza, unlike other donation organizations, directly impacts families in need this holiday season. On Monday the families retrieved their free Thanksgiving meal, which included a 15-pound turkey, cornbread stuffing, green bean casserole and mashed potatoes. A homemade card, greens from the UGArden and a recipe book were also included.
“Turkeypalooza is one big day broken up by six hour naps, broken up by five days” said The Campus Kitchen Coordinator Brad Turner of his position leading the event.
This year, The Campus Kitchen student leaders distributed and collected the donation bins from the businesses participating to alleviate the transportation issues.
The Georgia Center for Continuing Education and Hotel and the State Botanical Garden of Georgia were among the businesses that contributed this year. The organization’s year-round partners include the ACCA, UGArden, the Foodbank of Northeast Georgia and UGA Foods and Nutrition to form the Athens Senior Hunger Coalition.
The Public Service and Outreach student scholars and students from the Leadership and Service class recruited organizations and shuttled donation bins around Athens.
Matthew McGinty, a Junior Biological Science major from Savannah, Georgia, is one of the volunteers for Turkeypalooza. He was at the can drive sorting and collection at the Office of Student Learning annex.
“I was required to do experiential learning and saw this as an opportunity to serve” McGinty said. “ I wanted to be apart.”
The Turkeypalooza is just one of several ways Campus Kitchen at UGA is trying to fight hunger in the Athens community, but their efforts continue after the holiday season. Every week they provide sustainable and accessible food for those in need.
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With Veterans Day having fallen on a Sunday this year and having been observed on Nov. 12, Americans again had the opportunity to reflect on the sacrifices made by all the men and women who have served our country in the military.
In honor of this Veterans Day, The Red & Black interviewed two vets pursuing a college degree and transitioning from a military to civilian lifestyle in Athens. Having resources including the Student Veterans Resource Center and the Student Veterans Association, University of Georgia was ranked No. 1 in the nation for student veterans.
These student veterans shared stories about their time in service and their transition into college.
Within a few months, Joseph Millunzi went from handling explosives on aircrafts to flipping omelets at the Niche.
A United States Marine Corps veteran, Millunzi joined the Marine Corps in December 2007. A native of Lodi, California, Millunzi was the first person in his family to join the military, but it is something he knew he wanted to do.
“I always wanted to serve. That was something I’ve wanted to do my entire life,” Millunzi said. “My father told me I had a servant’s heart.”
Millunzi served as an aviation ordnanceman, putting bombs and gun systems on to aircrafts to carry closer to troops on the ground. Millunzi was deployed to Japan and Afghanistan and came back to the U.S. to serve in Arizona and North Carolina. Although he planned on serving the full 20-year term, Millunzi had to retire for his heart condition in August 2017.
Aside from being the first to join the military, he was also the first person in his family to attend college. While Millunzi took classes during his time in the Marine Corps, he realized to utilize the skills he learned in service and support his family, he had to pursue a higher education.
“I always knew I wanted to get an education because no one in my family has ever done that before,” Millunzi said. “Where you’re at is you go to work or you go to war, and in 2007, that’s exactly where I was at, so I knew education was everything.”
He only had 45 days to figure out where to go after his last day of service, so he applied to several schools along the east coast and chose the University of Georgia after meeting a friend from the area while he was in the Marine Corps. In fall of 2017, Millunzi enrolled at the University of Georgia as a business management major.
For Millunzi, while the transition from military to college was not a smooth one, he found a support system on campus with his coworkers and resources for veterans to aid his transition back into civilian life.
“Jumping into these classes were so fast paced, so that was kind of rough, but we have resources on this campus that are immense. They’re there to help you succeed, and they really care,” Millunzi said. “I would say the hardships are different in every aspect, but there’s nothing that we don’t look forward to solving or getting forward passing — nothing to dwell on.”
His first job was at the Niche, where some of his coworkers also had military backgrounds, which gave him the chance to settle into college life with a job. Millunzi also found support through the SVRC, and from there, he connected with the SVA. After just a year in the association, Millunzi was elected as the SVA president, which is an organization that connects student veterans to share their experiences and offer advice to newer veterans on campus.
Millunzi’s wife and children are also instrumental in motivating him through school and work. His wife, who is also a Marine Corps veteran, can relate to her husband as they had gone through similar experiences.
“To see the public and the civilian sector and veterans from prior wars come around and put their arms around those veterans that are coming home, those in our community,” Millunzi said. “It just shows that caring and that love that they have for this country and for those who have gone on to fight.”
From the opposite side of the country, there is fellow veteran Stephanie Lawsure. Having grown up in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, a town of less than 10,000 people, Lawsure was a shy girl who worked at the local diner. While in high school, she met a Marine Corps recruiter and in 2009 after graduating high school, Lawsure decided to join the Marine Corps.
“I worked at a diner, and I remember I wanted everything done the right way. That was how my recruiter got me. He said, ‘You like structure, and the Marine Corps is structure — the military is structure,” Lawsure said. “I wanted to push myself. I wanted that structure, that routine.”
Lawsure began training for the military by attending regular workouts at the recruitment station and training around town.
“There are a lot of older veterans, a lot of Vietnam veterans, and they all knew what I was doing, and they were all very supportive,” Lawsure said. “It was almost like I had the whole town behind me. Once people started supporting me, it gave me the actual push to not be afraid to actually do it.”
Throughout the five years she served, Lawsure began her first two years in Monterey, California, learning Korean. She became a Korean cryptologic linguist, translating and identifying foreign communication. Lawsure later moved to Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, where she was a rifle instructor and worked with new marines.
Although she planned to re-enlist in the military, in July 2014 Lawsure found out she was pregnant with her daughter and left the military. She moved from Boston to Georgia in September 2015, and decided to enroll at the University of Georgia as a business administration and management major.
Even though the transition from military to civilian life was difficult at first, Lawsure eventually found the people and resources to connect with on campus to help with the transition.
“It was really hard to transition just because I didn’t know anyone, and I didn’t have that camaraderie anymore. Those people weren’t right there, and I struggled for a while,” Lawsure said. “As soon as I started making friends, my life changed. I don’t know what I would be doing if I weren’t at UGA.”
At UGA, Lawsure connected with the SVA, and they mentored her through her academic and personal life.
“There have been times where I think, ‘Do I really need this degree? Should I go try and find a job?’ because I want to spend more time with my daughter,” Lawsure said. “It’s definitely not easy, and a lot of people ask me, ‘How do you do it?’ and I think the military trained me to work under pressure.”
For Lawsure, Veterans Day is also important to understand the hardships they go through, both during and after their time in the military.
“A lot of people say thank a veteran on Veterans Day, but I tell this to people all the time: It’s not just about that. We go through a lot transitioning from where we are in life or pivoting. Don’t just thank them; ask them how they’re doing because it’s so much more than thanks, and that’s the most important thing,” Lawsure said. “Because when people do that with me, somebody cares, and they want to know. Just check in with them, make sure everything’s going OK because it’s hard.”
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Well before today’s midterm election, several polls have been conducted throughout the state and across the country. In a poll commissioned by the Atlanta-Journal Constitution and WSB-TV, Democratic and Republican candidates for governor Stacey Abrams and Brian Kemp are practically neck and neck.
As reported recently in The Red & Black, this was the most recent poll in a series of general election polls conducted in Athens by the University of Georgia’s Survey Research Center within the School of Public and International Affairs.
With 47.7 percent of respondents in support of Kemp, he was slightly ahead of Abrams’ 46.3 percent. However, the 1.4 percent margin was within the margin of error of 2.8 points, which means the two are basically tied.
These results were verified by an unbiased third party, the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia, in order to ensure the polling process and the results were conducted accurately and fairly.
“Research shows that when polls are done well, they provide valuable information to different kinds of individuals and groups,” Auer said. “For example, public opinion polling on candidates help political campaigns to hone political messages and to understand candidates’ strengths and weaknesses in the eyes of different parts of the electorate.”
The SRC is a fairly new department, but with the success it has encountered, it has clear goals set out for its future.
Since 2016, the SRC has conducted 14 polls for the AJC, the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, the Georgia Association of Realtors and the Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce.
SRC polls are “cost effective and typically much cheaper than private sector polling firms,” Hood said.
Jake Truscott, a graduate student at UGA, is the supervisor and manager for the SRC. Most of his responsibilities center around general support for the employees of the department.
“There are a handful of universities across the United States that are heavily employed to conduct polling for major news syndicates, interest groups and political parties,” Truscott said. “My hope is that UGA’s SRC can develop itself into being a recognizably competitive research center employed by major groups across the U.S.”
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