BRACK: City of Auburn attracting attention with its Whistlestop Shops

By Elliott Brack, editor and publisher  |  The City of Auburn, Ga. is getting a distinct new look adjacent to its City Hall.

The city partially on the northeastern edge of Gwinnett has established an attractive Whistestop Shop. These are 11 similar wooden 9×12 foot retail cottage style individual shops selling a variety of home-based products. They are attracting business activity to the downtown area.

Mayor Linda Blechinger presented the idea to the Council after seeing a similar collection of village shops at St. Simons Island, Ga., which were constructed several years ago. The Auburn Council liked the idea. Work started on the shops in early 2016 with a soft opening in November last year.

Alex Mitchen, community development director, says the city built an initial five shops, and because of the demand, added four more, then two more. Each of the buildings, of a high-quality wooden craftsman design, cost $32,000, paid with SPLOST funds. The work was done by DL Masonary of Jonesboro.

The shops have been virtually full since opening, with the Grand Opening at the “Auburn Ever After” event in April.

The city advertised for occupants, and found a ready audience. The rent for each shop is $200, which includes water, heat and air conditioning, and wi-fi. There is a museum associated with the shops. All are ADA accessible. The city is now anticipating adding two more of the 9×12 foot shops.

Mayor Blechinger says that the whole idea was “to assist small businesses to get their product to market, and to bring home businesses to Main Street. We wanted these businesses to flourish, and it serves as a gathering spot, a destination, and attracts tourists and visitors.”

The Whistlestop shops are attracting groups who come to town to shop. “One group from a nearby church came, and stayed until 7 p.m.”  Normal hours for the shops is from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesdays through Saturdays.  “But the shops adjust if there is a crowd, or if the weather is bad.”

Most of the businesses in the shops had proprietors who were either operating out of their homes, or on the Internet. Products being sold at the shops include a variety, from  gifts, custom crafts, coffee, baked treats, Ice cream, truffles, candy, quilts, wreaths, sporting goods and other items and goods.

Periodically, Auburn features market days. The next one will be tomorrow, Saturday, July 22, when the shops will be open from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. There will also be similar markets in August, September and October on the second Saturday of the month.

MEANWHILE, Auburn, population 7,600 with only about two subdivisions and less than five per cent of its population in Gwinnett County, is primarily in Barrow County and has seen steady growth lately. The 2010 population was 6,887.

Auburn has a budget of $6.5 million, and its only debt is $7 million for its part of a water reservoir, which it shares with Barrow County. The reservoir is a former granite pit. The city has applied for an Environmental Protection Division permit to eventually withdraw water from the reservoir.

Auburn benefits not only from SPLOST funds (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) in Gwinnett, but also benefits from a LOST (Local Option Sales Tax) in Barrow County.  Mayor Blechinger heartily approves of these funds. “Income from the SPLOST and LOST are the best friends for our city,” she says.

If you are headed east from Gwinnett, instead of Georgia Highway 316,  take U.S. Highway 129 through Dacula, then Auburn, to check the Whistlestop Shops!