The Creative Coast’s blogspot is Savannah’s sounding board for local thinkers, innovators, wanderers and wonderers. Guest bloggers share their thoughts, opinions and creative noodling from all over the map. This week’s blog is from Camilla Meshiea, follower of many roads, personal fitness advocate and owner of CrossFitSAV. Read on for Camilla’s smack down of all things that keep Savannah from flying…
I own a gym and as you might imagine I do possess some of those drill sergeant qualities expected in this field: the leave your BS at the door, give me your best effort or go away, save your excuses for someone who cares, kind of authoritarianism. I also possess more coddling ways: I believe in you even if you don’t believe in yourself, I have no time for your weaknesses because I am focused on your strengths. I care about my members more as family than clients and am a hard ass for the sake of catalyzing positive change and so with these yin and yang type drives in mind, I write this blog post.
“Savannah kills all good things”, utters a dear friend, dismayed by the recent closure of several charming and special businesses in town.
“All the good ones leave Savannah”, says another dear friend heartbroken at the impending departure of lovely and talented people leaving for greener pastures.
It’s true, businesses close in any town for many reasons, and it’s true, people leave for better job opportunities in other places all the time, but it feels especially frequent here and the losses especially pointed because new and unusual businesses and new and unusual people don’t seem to thrive, be encouraged, or last here.
There is a fracture in the community, a separateness that is unclear though relatively well defined: the born-in-Savannah set, SCAD, the out-of-towners and within that community, various dividing lines. Not to mention the racial divide, still too unseemly to discuss and still too entrenched to attend to, so it appears.
Strangely enough our gym community offers a kind of neutral territory where these groups mingle and through this access I hear the comings and goings of these disparate worlds. In my time here, I’ve seen countless talented individuals and businesses either relocate or give up on Savannah and resort to outside markets to keep their business alive.
We read about the ineptitude of the City, tabling efforts to grow and develop business; we hear about our friends who can’t get business licenses seemingly at the whim of the person on the end of the phone. I’ve seen my neighborhood association stand in the way of new restaurants moving in for fear of it bringing in “the wrong sort”; seen dog parks voted out because they might entice unwelcome activity; seen much needed road and sewer improvements hamstrung because of the short term inconvenience they pose; seen food trucks thwarted by invented rules; seen community gardens fail; seen street markets die; seen design, tech, and creative business go elsewhere; watched hospitals lose talented employees to more hospitable markets; seen large scale developments never make it to signing because they didn’t have the patience to traverse the murky waters of our city’s bureaucracy.
There are those who persevere and jump through the hoops necessary to get things done (or luckily have access to an insider who knows somebody who knows somebody). But there are just as many, if not more, who walk away or set up elsewhere.
What if this city fostered change, lured it here, took a chance on it, believing that risk in the hands of clever thinkers has a positive impact? What if Savannah was an innovator, not a follower, or worse still, left in the dust of every other town willing to support an economy that is not about chintzy tourism, soulless chains, and a service industry that counts on visiting customers who won’t come back a second time?
The small pond big fish mentality is enticing and apparently enough for some, certainly it provides its own benefits, but with it comes complacency. Competition seems to instill fear of losing a supposedly finite client base instead of igniting a drive to provide a better service or product. This pond could and should be teeming with possibility, our infrastructure encouraging innovation, not standing in the way of it. We could be welcoming development and harnessing it to make our city better, not chasing it out of town scoffing at the audacity of uninvited or untested change.
I love this town, I continue to believe in her, that’s why I stay and work hard to grow my business as there are benefits to our laid-back culture and old-fashioned ways. I am grateful for what we do have: the fairs, a farmer’s market, the coffee shops, Forsyth, Geekend, film festivals, book tours, a burgeoning music scene, a nascent organic movement and a smattering of other locally driven business with good ideas and the energy to spread them.
There are people with vision who are drawn to and inspired by the rawness of this town. I am grateful for them too, the ones who either look beyond the obstacles, surmount them, or hit just the right tipping point to keep traction in their idea. YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE, KEEP IT UP, WE NEED YOU.
We have the thinkers, the workers, the backdrop, and I critique Savannah because I believe she can be more than a pretty lady with a dirty face, I believe she can clean up her act and be a jaw dropping grand dame