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Posted: December 25, 2010 12:30 a.m.

Around the well

As in most small cities, our downtown has experienced a sharp turnover in businesses in recent years. Retail businesses in small towns have faced competition from shopping centers with convenient parking and a greater variety of merchandise.

In Social Circle we have several businesses that have served as anchors over the years. They are keys to our downtown survival, particularly in this weak economic climate.

One of them is Baldwin Antiques, a place which reflects the charm and laid-back character of our small town. Nancy Baldwin came to Social Circle more than 30 years ago from the Toco Hills area in Atlanta where she, her husband and some friends opened the China Closet on North Druid Hills Road. After her husband passed away, she learned about Social Circle from the late real estate broker Virginia Logino, fell in love with the town and has been here ever since.

Despite the economy, "Baldwin Antiques" is thriving. Nancy’s assortment of collectibles, furniture and whatnots is not arranged in any particular order, except perhaps in her mind’s eye. A unique feature is the store’s assortment of used books, ranging from biographies, historical novels and fiction by authors such as Pat Conroy (Nancy’s favorite). There is a steady stream of visitors browsing through "other people’s memorabilia" at their leisure while Nancy contributes whatever information she can about items under consideration. She is helpful but so unhurried that one wonders if making sales even enters her mind.

The store’s longstanding success can be attributed to its owner being sensitive to her customers. For example, Baldwin Antiques is one of the few businesses open on Sunday, when many people come to eat at the Blue Willow Inn.

"I’m open for business when potential customers are in town," Nancy said.

She’s also open when she says she will be open. It’s frustrating to see a sign on a shop door which reads, "Be back in 20 minutes." Most often, potential customers simply walk away.

Another downtown anchor is the Social Circle Antique Mall, a business established in 1995 by Social Circle resident Peggy Malcom. The business changed hands and then a few years later was acquired by Social Circle resident Ondrea Sellers, who started as a booth renter there in 1997.

The "Mall" is housed in a large building that wraps around a building at the corner of our main intersection. Ondrea rents booth space to a number of collectors and dealers. She considers her situation somewhat unique in that her shop attracts a lot of local people who bring their antiques and vintage items to her as they downsize or move away. These local vendors are not looking for top dollars for their household items but rather are willing to sell them at reasonable prices to facilitate sales.

The Antique Mall is a great place to look for good, older furniture, which often represents great value as compared with much higher priced new furniture. Ondrea has recently sold a lot of furniture to "30 somethings" who have been able to acquire beautiful, high-quality vintage pieces at a reasonable cost.

The key to her longevity in business, according to Ondrea, is that she loves what she does. She became addicted to antiques as a child and views this as her main ingredient for a successful business.

A second ingredient is that she loves people, and her store provides a social outlet for her as well as a business opportunity. A friendly atmosphere and reasonable prices are what brings customers back.

Ondrea admits, though, that it would be tough to make a living running an antique business. She also cautions about putting high prices on your household treasures, particularly in this economic climate.

A third anchor is Faye Kitchens’ Dolls and Stuff. Faye started her business in her basement, and when she discovered Social Circle about 12 years ago, she decided to set up shop.

When you step into the building, you’ll find hundreds of dolls of every size and description arranged along the walls and also a large collection of costume jewelry (a recent specialty of the shop).

Continuing on back and you’ll see a room stuffed with children’s clothing, and further back, a vast collection of Christmas decorations and collectibles.

It’s truly amazing.

There are other rooms with more dolls, clothing and collectables of every imaginable description. Faye also has a website where she sells dolls and doll clothes.

Faye believes that Social Circle is a big draw for customers impressed by our laid-back, peaceful community. When asked about her business philosophy and reasons for her sustainability, she stressed the importance of being good to customers and "depend on God’s grace to carry you through."

Her advice to new business owners is that retail is not a 9 to 5 proposition. "You have to work hard, and be totally committed to what you are trying to accomplish."

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