As I'm writing this, the Dow seems to have settled into a new level over 10,000 and up about 25 percent on the year. Our abysmal unemployment numbers have seen a little improvement recently (although some manufacturing jobs would be nice), and orders for durable goods have been up in past months along with GDP growth. That's all pretty good news, and it's news that I hope translates into peace and prosperity for all of us in the new year. There is, of course, a lot of work to do—particularly in government, where the red ink flows at both the federal level and here in the state capital.
Holiday sales numbers are watched very closely; this season has been no exception. The unofficial barometer of Christmas sales is often Wal-Mart's weekly numbers, which are considered a decent measure of the health of discount retailers. When Wal-Mart is up, so goes the conventional wisdom, then the economy is doing well.
This winter, Wal-Mart sales have been disappointing to analysts and shareholders—the stock has lost 5 percent of its value recently. In fact, Target and JC Penney have also had slow sales, and Sears surprisingly cut prices two weeks before Christmas.
Some analysts are theorizing that those sales numbers are disappointing because the economic recovery is working for wealthier Americans more so than for Wal-Mart shoppers (or for Sears, JC Penney, Target and Dollar General shoppers). After all, sales are brisk at Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf-Goodman, Tiffany—not to mention Best Buy—according to a recent story by Daniel Gross in the online magazine Slate (http://www.slate.com). That story—somewhat convincingly—makes the case that wealthier Americans have seen the economic gains disproportionately and, hence, luxury sales are up and discount sales are flat. While I see that logic (even if you believe in trickle-down economics, you've got to agree that it takes time to trickle), I'm hoping that a slump in big-box discounter sales means something a little different this year.
Maybe it means more people are shopping local.
Anecdotal evidence has been good here in Jackson—a number of our small-business advertisers have told us that they've done well this holiday season … better than they have in years. Many individuals have told us they're avoiding big-box places and even the mall in favor of small businesses. (That's not a scientific poll, mind you, just what we've heard as we've been doing our own rounds.) I can report that, using the Jackson Free Press as a barometer, things are going very well—our holiday issues were our most successful ever, with more than 70 different local businesses and organizations advertising in our mid-December issue.
Many local businesspeople we've talked to seem poised to take off in 2004. I've heard more great ideas for businesses in the past two months than I've heard in years; we've met many folks opening a new shop or putting out a new shingle late this year. I can't help but hope that trend continues.
I'd like to think that we're going into the "Year of the Main Street." As manufacturing (and even high-tech) jobs move overseas, more and more our national economy relies on small businesses and entrepreneurs. And, to my thinking, these are the best sort of businesses to encourage because the profits stay in the community, the tax base improves, and small businesses tend to keep their jobs in the same region over time—very few of our advertisers are likely to pick up and move to China, after all.
The best way to make that happen for all of us—short of starting your own successful business venture—is to remember your local retailers and businesses throughout the year, and work with them whenever you can. We can do that as individuals with our shopping habits as well as with our companies and our purchasing habits. (Not that we can do it every single time—but at least try to get a bid from a local company whenever possible.) That's part of what we mean by our "Think Global, Shop Local" campaign. And, like Christmas, we encourage you to keep the concept in mind throughout the year.
Switching gears for a moment, I'd like to point out three different people on the Jackson Free Press team who are due some recognition. The first one is Ayana Taylor, who will begin this spring as a paid news intern, thanks to the strength of her resume and work. Ayana is the editor of The Harambee, the Tougaloo College newspaper. She interned (unpaid!) with us over this past summer to develop our candidate questionnaire. For the spring, we sponsored her application for a Diversity in Journalism award through the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, and she won. The award is one of only two paid stipends given this year to alternative newspapers around the country. Congratulations to Ayana. Expect to see her at upcoming events and meetings around town this spring.
Second, Jackson is officially saying goodbye (at least for a while) to Bingo Holman, the founding assistant editor of the JFP who quietly and effectively made this project possible. Bingo has decided to return to college (Ole Miss) to get her degree in Southern Studies, and we couldn't be happier for her. During much of our first year, she busted her butt for the JFP, writing several stories an issue, promoting the paper and doing whatever it took to get the paper out. We will keep Bingo on as a contributing editor and offer her the space whenever she wants it to lend her very special take on the world. We wish her all luck and lots of love.
We've been blessed with another editorial godsend who has really made the Jackson Free Press' growth and success possible in the past six months—part-time copy chief and writer Lynette Hanson, who is also a full-time JPS school librarian. It seems like every time I come through the door of the Free Press editorial room, there's Lynette, working away on a story or tracking down a photograph or editing a page, looking up a fact or calling for an appointment. Lynette's dedication to the JFP mission knows few bounds—sanity, in fact, may not be one of them—but we're blessed that she allows us to dominate her "free" time, because we couldn't have kept up the pace without her and many others this past year.
And, as Lynette would surely point out, we're just getting started. In this, our last issue of 2003, you'll find three weeks worth of listings—entertainment, classes, events, seminars and galleries. We'll be closing the office between Christmas and New Year's Day for some much-needed relaxation. Our next issue hits the streets Jan. 14—just in time to build to our Best of Jackson 2004 issue at the end of January. (You can still vote online until Dec. 31.)
We hope it's been a great year for you and yours, and here's to a prosperous 2004. We wish you a safe and happy New Year.
Todd Stauffer is the publisher of the Jackson Free Press.