South Longview initiative unites businesses, youth
Nov. 3, 2012 at 9 p.m.
A half-page advertisement that Don and Amy Foster bought when they opened their business on South High Street drew 108 phone calls.
"Fifty of those who called said they wouldn't come past downtown," Don Foster said. "Thirty-five more said they wouldn't come past (U.S.) 80 or Nelson (Street)."
More specifically, the co-owner of Sassy Sheek Salon said, the callers were saying they wouldn't go south of those landmarks.
"We only got eight customers," he said. "And we have lost two really good stylists because their customers wouldn't come down here. We lost a massage therapist because of the location."
So the couple is taking aim at turning around perceptions about South Longview that are threatening their fledgling business. One part of that effort is starting a new business group to advocate for the area. Another is joining with an established program for the area's youth.
The twin goals, Foster said, are bringing "business owners together with the community's youth to make changes that will increase business and have a long-term impact on the youth."
So far, the new South Longview Business Alliance has four members - and Foster said this past week another 16 have expressed interest in joining.
In addition to the salon, business members of the alliance are Mobile Notary, Edible Arts and Wanda Turner of Texas Homes and Ranches.
Foster also is making contact with the Youth Action Committee, which was established in 1996 by the city's Partners in Prevention program to engage young people and foster leadership skills. Participants do painting, landscaping, litter removal and other revitalization projects.
Foster said he hopes the group's support of young people's engagement in the south side will begin to make the area's businesses more attractive to potential customers from all over Longview.
"I'm hoping the community is respectful enough to do business with the businesses that sponsor that cleanup," he said.
Efforts to revitalize the elder half of Longview have waxed and waned for at least two decades. The efforts often were the fruit of local church and service club outreaches.
In the mid-1990s, under heavy public pressure, the city cracked down on drug violence, demolishing an eyesore house and constructing Stamper Park Recreation Resource Center at Nelson and Center streets, just off High Street.
"What makes us different is taking this group of businesses, and taking it out and trying to tie the community to us," Foster said as his wife clipped customer Brittney Myers' hair. "As a new business owner, I felt that there was an imbalance between the north and south."
Foster said he also has addressed the Longview City Council about his efforts and is planning to meet with LeTourneau University President Dale Lunsford.
Branden Johnson, president of the Longview NAACP and owner of Mobile Notary, said the city has needed an organization such as the alliance for some time. He likened it to the Greggton-centered Go West effort to set West Longview on a path to its own renaissance.
"I think it will be similar to the Go West campaign and draw more attention to this particular area of Longview," Johnson said. "We're trying to figure out how we can increase traffic from (Interstate) 20 and (U.S.) 259 to businesses in Longview."
Go West co-founder Kimberly Fish said that at first blush, the new south-side alliance looks promising.
"I look forward to talking with him to find ways we can combine energy," she said of Foster. "Anytime grassroots groups get together with common goals, it provides energy for progress. ... (The alliance) is different from us, because we're hoping to kind of light a fire under people and see that momentum kind of cause them to move forward. He has long-term plans."