Thursday, January 8, 2009

Jobless Rate Nears 15%

Martinsville's unemployment rate is up to 14.9%, according to yesterday's Martinsville Bulletin--that number is the highest in the state, followed by Danville at 14.4%. Henry County's has reached 9.6% unemployment, bringing the overall joblessness in Martinsville-Henry County to 10.6%.

On top of that, we'll lose even more jobs by way of Liberty Fair Mall, due to the news that Goody's is closing all its stores nationwide. Waldenbooks--the only major bookstore in our area--is also leaving the mall by January 24. And there is an e-mail circulating through the area that, if true, brings even more bad news. According to the e-mail, three other stores may be leaving, including JCPenney Outlet and Belk. If any 220 South readers are unfamiliar with the area, this is a much bigger deal than it sounds--our mall was never on par with others in the region, and it has been on a downward spiral for years. If these rumors prove true, it will all but kill the only mall we have and do even further damage to the local economy, not to mention the quality of life and overall morale of our community. 

The only upside to this is that it provides an opportunity for local entrepreneurs: if empty storefronts in Uptown Martinsville are made available at a competitive rent, there's now an opening for new bookstores and clothing shops, potentially all locally-owned. That would accomplish several worthy goals all at once: first, it would help revitalize what was once a thriving uptown at the same time as creating jobs that don't depend on the whims of faraway corporate board rooms. A vibrant business district in Uptown would also prevent Wal-Mart from eating even more of the Martinsville-Henry County retail market.

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