Every once in a while I am given a "lead" about a business in one of our neighboring counties. With hunting season quickly approaching and our collective interest turning towards the outdoors, this business caught my attention.
Nestled among the historic buildings of downtown Sylvania is a thriving "outdoors" store called Georgia Wilderness Outfitters. You are probably muttering to yourself that we have those types of stores all around this area. And yes, you would be right.
However, this particular store has just expanded to 25,000 square feet of retail bliss for those who love to hunt, fish, and commune with nature. That's a pretty big operation for a city with a population of 2,675 as estimated in the 2000 United States census.
Even more interesting is that this store was founded just seven short years ago.
"My wife, Trude, and I started the business in a 400 square foot space in 2000," said store owner Jimmy Bennett. "When a bigger space in downtown came available three years ago, we took that. We have been able to acquire more space and to keep expanding."
Bennett said he felt like he could compete against places like Bass Pro Shop by providing good, knowledgeable customer service in a medium sized store which carried most everything that anyone would need.
"I wanted the atmosphere of our store to be like Miss Betty's country store in Helen, Ga.," he said. "You walk in there and it just feels warm and comfortable. That is the way we want our customers to feel."
Bennett said he and his staff enjoy talking with store customers for as long as they want to visit.
"People love to talk about hunting and fishing and the great outdoors," he said. "It is a passion for many people, and it is a passion for us. So we encourage people to stay and visit as long as they want."
In addition to hunting and fishing, they carry a significant amount of hiking and camping gear.
"We are going to expand our camping line, because there is such a big demand for it. At one time we had canoes and kayaks, but really didn't have the space to store them. I am considering stocking those again."
Bennett said more than half of his business is from outside of the Sylvania area.
"You just never know how things are going to turn out," he said. "I am very grateful that folks have heard about our store and given us a try."
Even though Bennett is an "outdoors" type of fellow, he softens up when he talks about his wife, giving credit where he says credit is due.
"Trude is my partner and best friend, and she is what makes it all run," he said. "This business wouldn't be where it is today without her."
A celebration of the store's expansion is scheduled for August 31. Call it a hunch, but something tells me that it will be a good time with a lot of fish tales.
Until next week, I bid you au revoir.
Got a scoop for Jan? Call her at (912) 489-9463 or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org