Soldiers’ Departure Hurts Town’s Economy With AM-Gulf Rdp, Bjt
HINESVILLE, Ga. (AP) _ With most of the 24th Infantry Division in Saudi Arabia, the clip artists at Curly’s Barber Shop spend their days watching television and napping.
The deployment of 14,000 GIs from nearby Fort Stewart for what probably will be a lengthy Mideast tour has already hurt businesses in Hinesville and surrounding Liberty County.
Howard ″Curly″ Gainous Sr., 69, said his shop used to give 400 haircuts a week, but now is down to 50 or 60.
Gainous and Ed Barfield, 68, spend their days in the shop while the four other barbers check in periodically, hoping for work.
″I hope we get enough to hang on. We have high rent and overhead,″ Gainous said.
An electric barber pole still spins outside the shop, but Gainous has turned off some lights in a back room to save money.
Mayor Buddy DeLoach said fast food sales have been cut by 50 percent and house and apartment rentals are 30 percent below normal.
City officials won’t know the full economic impact of the deployment until late October, when this month’s sales tax receipts are tallied. But DeLoach said there already are plans to delay capital improvements and equipment purchases.
Some residents hope the Army will move another division to Fort Stewart, possibly from Germany. But military officials say there are no plans to bring another unit to the 780,000-acre post.
Hinesville residents pride themselves on their patriotism and support for the military. Army families live throughout the town. Civilian and military residents socialize, attend the same churches and work together in civic clubs.
Fort Stewart was just a sleepy southern Army post until the division was activated there in 1974. Since then, the county’s population has jumped from 18,000 to 52,000.
Hinesville officials worried about a mass exodus of military families following the deployment, but families with homes and school-age children apparently have remained.
Liberty County school enrollment is slightly higher this year - 8,015 students, compared to 7,995 last year.
Ronald E. Tolley, executive director of the Liberty County Industrial Authority, said the county has attracted several new industries that will help diversify the economy. Officials will try to boost slumping retail sales by attracting tourists and promoting Hinesville as a regional shopping area.
Tolley believes businesses that provided services to the young single soldiers will be especially hard hit. Hinesville has dozens of fast-food restaurants, pawn shops and used car lots. It also has at least nine barber shops, several auto parts stores, two major discount department stores and three large supermarkets.
″I think they’re definitely feeling the impact,″ said Tolley. ″You no longer see the military people in the stores.″
Donald Bonett, assistant store manager at the Piggly-Wiggly supermarket, said sales at his store have dropped $30,000 to $40,000 a week. Managers have cut the hours of part-time workers.
″Our sales have dropped - at least one-fourth of what we used to do,″ he said.
Only 12 cars were parked at the 52-room Days Inn motel on a recent night.
″It’s very, very slow,″ said general manager Mike Patel. ″We depend on the Army.″
Patel said the housekeeping staff has been cut from seven to two. The motel used to have an 80 percent occupancy rate, he said.
″If it stays like this for two months, it’s going to be a problem for us. We are losing money,″ he said.