Christopher Chavis : Conquering the Catch…Hook, Line and Sinker

“As no man is born an artist, so no man is born an angler.”

~Izaak Walton

Story By Katrice Williams Photos By Shelia Scott

Christopher “Chris” Chavis is an Ellabell native who has lived in Effingham for over 10 years, along with his wife LeAnn. The couple has a son, Landon, 16, and daughter, Gracy, 13. Chris has been doing millwork since graduating from high school and is currently a longshoreman at Georgia Port Authority in Savannah.

     Bass fishing has long been Chris’ passion, as he has loved it as far back as he can remember.

     “I’ve been fishing ever since I was old enough to hold a fishing pole. My granddad used to carry us everywhere with him. He fished tournaments as we were growing up. That’s where I got my passion for it from,” Chris mentions. Chris’ granddad Lee Benson is definitely his biggest mentor.

     Chris fished on the local small club level as a member of the Three Rivers Bass Club for a while. During only his “second year of fishing at the club, he had several good finishes and won angler of the year in points.” After his first year, he “got more into the competitive side” of things after becoming more acquainted with that arena.

     He remembers thinking, “If those guys can do it, I can do it.”

     Early on, he knew that it would be most beneficial to “start fishing really well at home before going abroad to compete;” he was confident that after mastering his skill on his home turf that he could begin “venturing out” much more. Chris fished in team and local, open tournaments and even participated in various charity competitive events.

     Chris began competing as a co-angler, an individual who sometimes fish in the rear of the same boat as a highly skilled and professional boater at competitions; the pairings are often randomly selected prior to events, as the two usually compete independent of one another. Actually, “the very first time that Chris fished as a co-angler, he won.” What’s more, Chris fished in a couple of Bass Fishing League (BFL) Tournaments and American Bass Angler (ABA) Tournaments where he performed very well.

     Chris declares, “I never would have thought in two years that I would’ve done as good and went as far in it as I have.”

     Chris is enormously grateful for all of his accomplishments on the water. Some 2016 finishes included 1st place at the BFL at Clarks Hill in March 2016, 2nd place at the BFL Savannah River Division at Lake Hartwell in April, 1st place finishes at Catt Trail and the Savannah River Elite Anglers last September and 1st place at the Halloween Tricky Two-Day Competition last October just to name a few. Actually, he did a phenomenal job this year alone, placing 3rd at the ABA National Championship at Lake Old Hickory in April, 3rd at the ABA South Carolina Division at Lake Russel in May, 3rd at the Coastal Bass Anglers Memorial Day Open at the Savannah River in May and 2nd at the Metter Bass Masters Open in July.

     Chris has a host of other accomplishments where he led in points over the past few years. All-in-all, Chris has “fished two national events which included over 300 anglers, ten regional events having over 250 anglers and about 20 local events, which included nearly 100 anglers;” he is pleased at his placement in each tournament.

     Further, Chris began fishing as a boater this year, and he continues to exceed even his own expectations. In fact, some boater “trails to be finished” include: American Bass Anglers Ram Open Series in South Carolina, the FLW (Forest L. Wood Fishing League)/BFL Savannah River Division and the FLW/BFL South Carolina Division, all being regional tournaments. In contrast to a co-angler, there is normally more vested interest and overall responsibility with being a boater; Chris really enjoys the challenges that come along with it.

He states, “I’ve done really well as a boater for my first year. There is a lot more on the line.” Chris welcomes anyone interested in learning more about his fishing endeavors to look him up via Facebook.

     Chris has some very beneficial advice for anyone desiring to get more into the sport and compete against others. He suggests, “Make sure you are good around here, then go out and fish as a co-angler for a while until you feel really good and confident that you can do a good job against those guys on their home lakes.”

     With all of his skills, accolades and accomplishments, Chris has a sincere love for the sport—a love that would be difficult to remain over the years without the tremendous support of his wife and kids. They are his biggest cheerleaders. They are truly proud of him and are looking forward to his professional growth in the sport and all that the future has to offer.

     LeAnn comments, “We’re happy to support him. I’m excited for him. How many times do you get to support somebody trying to live their dream? He would support me in anything I wanted to do. We’re behind him completely.”

     She admits that she does go fishing with her husband on occasion and is pretty okay with leaving most of the real fishing up to him. However, she always goes with the goal of getting a catch.

     LeAnn jokes, “I like to go fishing, but I really like to go ‘catching.’ I’m like, hey, let’s go. If we don’t catch anything, I’m ready to go.”

     Chris, a genuinely humble guy, would rather talk about his family or his second love, fishing, than ever be boastful about himself or his achievements.

     LeAnn insists, “He would rather talk about anything other than himself.”

     Going forward, Chris is looking forward to working his way up to the upcoming FLW Tour or the Bass Masters Elite Series, the goal of nearly every angler striving to consistently capitalize on their professional skills. Hence, he has several noteworthy goals in mind.

     Chris remarks, “Next year, I would like to try to fish the FLW’S and the Bass Masters Open. My goal is to take it another step up and go from there and see how it goes. I’m confident enough in myself that I feel like I can go compete and do good…take the chance and go after it.”

     Chris is certainly grateful to all of those family and friends who show their support. Also, he feels very privileged and thankful for all the companies who have chosen to sponsor him, including BD Landscaping, D&V Electric, Beasley Conditioned Air and Greenleaf Construction.

     “Having the support of local companies and good friends and family—it makes a humongous difference to keep you going,” Chris asserts.

     When he is not reeling in a catch, Chris enjoys spending quality time with his family, as he appreciates all of the time that they so willingly and open-heartedly sacrifice for him to follow his aspirations.

     Christopher Chavis is looking ahead to all of the opportunities in store for him as he persists to reach other noteworthy heights. While continuing to embrace the same humility and modesty that is instilled within, the opportunities are nearly endless for this talented and accomplished fisherman.

Traci Wells : Salesperson of the Year 2016 Cora Bett Thomas Realty

Traci Wells has enjoyed great success as a Realtor for over 15 years.  Therefore, it is no coincidence that when Traci made the decision five years ago to join a local firm with global exposure she joined Cora Bett Thomas Realty.

     As a result of this successful partnership, Traci has been able to make a difference in the lives of her clients located in Chatham, Bryan, Bulloch, Effingham, and surrounding counties. Interestingly, a real source of pride for Traci is the company’s relocation and referral department.  She mentions, “We have a phenomenal relocation department.   We are contacted by potential clients from different parts of the world as well.”

     More importantly, when Traci meets with clients she is actively listening to their vision along with their needs and desires for their new home.  This intuitive approach, coupled with Traci’s vast experience is the formula for success for her clients in finding and purchasing the house they will call home.  Whether it is a couple purchasing their first home or a client who is selling their home to move on to a different chapter in their life, Traci is enthusiastic and passionate about her work.  Helping clients fulfill their dream remains the most rewarding aspect of her career and the biggest reason Traci continues to love what she does each and every day.

     Traci and her husband, Andy, are natives of Bryan County and now reside in Effingham. However, banking was Traci’s initial profession though real estate proved to be a better fit.  This financial experience compliments her real estate career.  Success in both of these complex fields require great attention to detail and an ability to understand and communicate with people from all walks of life.  Traci possesses that unique ability.

     She remarked, “Banking is a great background to have!  Once I entered into the world of real estate, I was intrigued as to “how and why” these processes work.  I have always wanted to know the nuts and bolts of everything”.   With Andy’s background as an independent construction contractor this proved to be Traci’s greatest motivator and encourager as she began to move towards a career in real estate.  “He taught me the new construction background.  Working with and learning from Andy proved invaluable.”

     Traci considers it a privilege to be a part of Cora Bett Thomas Realty, who has set an unparalleled standard in the local market.  Notably, Cora Bett Thomas Realty is not a franchise but is indeed “globally networked just like a franchise.”  The benefits include a higher degree of capitalization on meeting customers’ needs and industry demands, as well as allowing the company to have a complete customer focus and client goal-orientation.

     She explains that though the company has an inception date of 1995, Cora Bett has been in real estate industry for much longer.  Cora Bett is an expert in the ins-and-outs of real estate, enabling her to develop and maintain an exclusive brand.   Cora Bett Thomas Realty is renowned for the firm’s downtown Savannah presence.  The addition of Traci to Cora Bett’s office allows for the opportunity to respond to the market growth demands occurring on the outskirts of Savannah.  Traci is thrilled to be able to focus on the outlying counties.   She remains confident that the company can accommodate her clients’ needs while offering an unparalleled level of service.

     Cora Bett is also affiliated with the “Leading Real Estate Companies of the World.”   This distinction is an “invitation only affiliation”.   Obviously, not all real estate firms have this premium level of notoriety.  With such a distinguished industry standard, it is of no surprise that Cora Bett Thomas Realty currently ranks 7 in their Multiple Listing Service (MLS).

     Traci is thankful to be a part of such a professional and supportive team.  She asserts, “we all support each other; we work hand-in-hand together.  The company provides us with all the necessary and most up-to-date tools to get our jobs done – and done well.”

     More importantly, the market is still climbing out of the slump caused by the 2008 crash, Traci feels that the market is on a course of steady incline.  She explains, “you do not want a rapid incline; you want a steady incline – that is what makes the economy turn.”  Furthermore, Traci is pleased with the course set by Cora Betty Thomas Realty.  She adds, “I feel that the company is going in the right direction for what the market and economy allow.”

     As a Realtor, Traci has many accomplishments.  She is a member of the Savannah Board of Realtors, the Georgia Association of Realtors, the National Association of Realtors, and has served on the Community Housing Committee for Pembroke for quite some time.  She was also named Cora Bett Thomas Realty’s 2016 Agent of the Year.   She does feel that working with an outstanding team of professionals and a company of unparalleled service while being able to fulfill dreams is her greatest success.

     In addition to her Realtor status, Traci has her Council of Residential Specialist (CRS) designation.  To obtain a CRS status, “Realtors must meet a number of stringent requirements that combine advanced hours of education and training, experience and demonstrated success in the marketplace.”  This certifies that the individual “has completed advanced professional training and demonstrated outstanding professional achievement in residential real estate.”  This small community of distinguished agents are among the top three percent of all Realtors in the United States.  Traci takes pride in her CRS designation, as it is an accolade that she takes tremendous pride in and feels it sets her apart from others in the industry.

     In her spare time, Traci enjoys spending time with her family and traveling with her husband.  They are both NASCAR enthusiasts, traveling to races whenever possible.

     Over the span of her career Traci has employed many different methods of selling and marketing, learned endless new regulations, and scouted new markets.  She and Cora Bett Thomas Realty have set new standards as they continually strive for excellence in an ever-changing real estate world, filled with endless possibilities.

creativedesigns by Gina

Story by Stephanie Cardozo

My goal is to be a one-stop shop for businesses.”

     Raised in Effingham, Gina Brown is a mother of two boys and is growing her business right from her very home. She aims for excellence with her graphic designs. “I can make anything you need.” She designs everything from websites, decals, t-shirts and much more!

     This humble, hard working mother, began freelancing before she started her business. “I started to get so many compliments and I just fell in love with it,” she expressed, going back to the moment that brightened the creative light inside of her. Gina explained that going full-time with CREATIVEDesigns proved to be much more difficult than she imagined but she knew it was what she was meant to do. So she worked harder for what she felt passionate about. “It started by just doing it here and there, now it’s full time and I love it,” she said with a smile in her voice.

     How do you manage working from home and taking care of two boys?

     “My boys are older so they get it. They help me some, here and there. My youngest is very creative. He likes to see what his mama is doing. But once they go off to school in the morning, I sit at my desk and I start working and about the time they get home, I shut everything down and that’s family time.” Gina is sure to stay organized with keeping her business and family separate, proving that moms can run a business and still have time for the kids.

“Part of the reason why I wanted to do this full-time is because I wanted to spend time with my kids. Working full-time where I was working—I was not able to do that. I worked all the time, now I’m able to make my own schedule and if I need time off, I can allow myself that time,” adds Gina.

     Gina says she enjoys creating logos for her clients the most because it allows her the opportunity to bring their vision for their business to life. “Logos are my favorite to do, I like to get into my client’s head and see what they envision for their business. Your logo is your staple.  My job is to bring that vision to life for my clients.

     Big moves were made when Gina and her family moved from Richmond Hill back to Effingham. When asked about the change, she simply answered, “I grew up in Effingham. It was nice to get away but Effingham is home,” she expressed with joy.

     Setting goals for more success

     Gina has been working hard from her home office and is looking to open a store where she will have the tools to create bigger jobs for her clients. She is hopeful that this will be soon, as her business proves to be a success with loyal customers returning for professional designs.

     Potential clients are encouraged to head over to Gina’s website, https://creativedesignsbygina.wordpress.com, where you will find details on her creations such as, product designs, graphic designs and media maintenance. You can also follow Gina’s Facebook page for updates on her creations, www.facebook.com/CREATIVEDesigns.bygina

     Prices vary and are made to order. Gina takes a lot of pride in the quality of work she provides for her clients, and makes their needs and vision a priority.

Ear, Nose and Throat Associates of Savannah

Celebrating four decades of treating patients in the Coastal Empire

Story By David Pena

For the past forty years, when patients in the Coastal Empire have experienced any type of head and neck disorders, they usually found their way to offices of ENT Associates of Savannah. Since starting the practice four decades ago, Dr. Zoller and his colleagues have seen many technological advancements in the medical field, but one thing remains constant with him and his staff: a dedication to giving the best possible care to every patient that comes into their offices, which are located in Savannah, Rincon, Pooler, Statesboro, Blufton and Richmond Hill, in addition to the ENT Surgical Center located on the Armstrong campus.

     Dr. Zoller recently reflected on the enormous growth of his practice over the years. “Having trained in Boston, I started in 1977 in Savannah. Seven years later I was joined by Dr. Fred Daniel, who trained in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Twenty-two years ago, Dr. Stephen Rashleigh joined the practice, having trained in Chicago, and Dr. William Moretz III joined us  ten years ago after being trained in Augusta. Dr. Brad Rawlings joined six years after his training in Norfolk, Virginia. Our most recent addition, Dr. Diane Davis, was in practice for over thirty years in Dublin, Georgia before joining ENT Associates two years ago.  We’ve had to add those physicians as well as our physician’s assistant, Michelle Yamada, in order to handle the volume of patients at the various satellite offices,” he says. “In fact, we’ve been in Effingham County and Richmond Hill for about twenty-five years now. We initially had our office in the Effingham Hospital, but we later moved to Rincon in order to serve our clients who didn’t want to drive in to town for their appointments. I also see quite a few of our Effingham patients at my Pooler office.”

     In addition to the physicians, ENT Associates of Savannah has five doctors of audiology on staff who are experts in the newest hearing aid technology.  The Audiology Department works both independently and in conjunction with the physicians to provide a wide range of hearing services, both diagnostic and rehabilitative. Additionally, there is an allergy clinic for  testing and treatment. For over two decades now, residents in Effingham county can now benefit from the services that ENT Associates have been offering to Savannah residents for forty years.

     “The population in Rincon grew so much that we eventually made the decision to move there. Now we have one of our senior partners, Dr. Stephen Rashleigh, M.D., who is at the Rincon office one day a week. He stays extremely busy,” says Dr. Zoller with a smile. Dr. Rashleigh adds, “We’ve been going to Effingham for over twenty years, and it’s been a mutually beneficial relationship. There’s definitely a need for our services, since many of our patients don’t care to drive into Savannah.”

     Dr. Zoller adds, “It’s really nice to be part of the Effingham community, which has grown significantly. Many of our patients who have moved there from Savannah can now receive the same top notch service from our satellite office in Rincon.” Founded in 1977, ENT Associates has been proud to provide the residents of Georgia and Low country of South Carolina with outstanding ENT care and is looking forward to another successful forty years.

Martin Construction

Local business that has over thirty years experience of helping to build dreams in Effingham.

Story By David Pena

Jesse Martin, owner of Martin Construction, has over thirty years experience in renovations, remodeling, additions, designing, and general repairs. Martin takes pride in the fact that he owns and operates a local business that has been honest, reliable, and fair to all his customers. “We would like to thank all our customers that have made our success possible,” says Jesse.

     His wife Cindy, who recently retired from pediatric nursing career after over thirty years in the profession, plans on joining her husband in the family business. They will continue to offer their customers the same quality workmanship that is expected from Martin Construction on each and every project. “We are extremely flexible with scheduling and work to meet all of our customers’ needs,” says Jesse. The Martins are also very proud of the superior customer service they’ve been able to give to each of their customers through the years. “Our customers appreciate dealing directly with us,” he adds, “because we are hands-on and stay focused on each job until it’s complete.”

     Cindy and Jesse hope to teach their grandchildren that commitment, reliability, and workmanship are necessary in order to be successful in any endeavor. God has blessed the Martin family and their business, and they hope to give some of that back to their community. Cindy says, “We plan to give our time and talents to the needs of the community as well as to worthwhile causes.”

     Please contact Jesse at (912) 429-5488 or Cindy at (912) 429-2120 for more information about Martin Construction Company or to schedule an appointment.

Clyo Homemakers : Giving Back To Effingham For 50 Years

Story By Susan Lee Photos By Shelia Scott

In January of 1966, a new women’s club was formed in Effingham. The week after their first meeting, the ladies opened the Springfield newspaper and read an article that began, “The Haymakers Circle was organized on Monday afternoon at their club room in Clyo.”

     While the actual name of the group at the time was the Clyo Homemakers Circle, the erroneous title of Haymakers wasn’t that far from the truth. The old saying, “make hay while the sun shines” essentially means taking advantage of an opportunity and doing something while you have the chance. And that’s exactly what this group has been doing for half a century. Whenever they’ve had the chance to help someone in need or an opportunity to donate to their community, they’ve always been on hand with generosity and kindness.

     The group changed their name to the Clyo Homemakers Club in 1989 and celebrated their 50th anniversary last year. The charter members were: Edna Allen, Jaunita Allen, Evelyn Arden, Eva Crenshaw, Shirley Exley, Carolyn Exley (Seckinger), Marie Exley, Marsha Exley (Buckley), Maude Gnann, Margaret Groover, Caryl Morgan, Carolyn Morgan, Julia Rahn and Linda Rahn. Most of the women were previously members of the Clyo Home Demonstration Club, affiliated with the State of Georgia through the Extension Service.

     In the early days, the Homemakers met for years in the former Metzger store across the railroad tracks, renting it for the amount of the annual tax payment. Because the building wasn’t furnished, the ladies brought in tables and chairs and did their best to transform it into a welcoming club house (despite the fact that it had no restroom or kitchen).

     As early as 1976, the group began discussing plans to build a meeting place and soon opened a bank account to start saving toward that goal. They became incorporated in 1991 and soon after purchased the lot north of the Clyo Fire Department. This .7 acre lot had been the site of the home and office of Dr. William Wyburg Smith.

     The club’s building committee was Jaunita Allen, Julia Rahn, Edna Allen, Margie Sullivan and Carolyn Morgan. They not only spearheaded the fundraising, but they also contacted several contractors for bids, selected the floor plan, borrowed money and managed the building process.

     In 1993, they accepted a bid from Harvey Kieffer to build a brick building 32 feet by 50 feet for $46,000. “I have not included any expense or profit for myself in these figures,” Harvey noted on the bid.” They had to obtain a small loan on the building for funds not raised through fundraisers.

     Julia’s fondest memory is when they broke ground. “It was almost hard to believe what this group of women had done, all of us working together,” she said. “We had dreamed for so long of having our own building and now it was a reality.”

     The official ribbon cutting ceremony was held on June 22, 1993, at the first meeting in the new clubhouse. By June 1996, the loan had been paid and they ceremoniously burned the note at a family night supper meeting.

     A true civic organization in every sense, the Clyo Homemakers Club has raised money to support the Effingham community from its earliest days. As Edna Morgan wrote in the club’s 1966-1990 history: “At the first regularly scheduled meeting on Jan. 25, 1966, the treasurer’s report showed a balance of $7.11. A money making project was needed. The first project was for each person to put one dollar to work for a month, either make a pie, cake or hand work, sell it, and put the profit into the treasury. As time passed, we became more generous and our money making projects increased.”

     Over the years, their fundraising projects have included bake sales, barbecue dinners, yard sales and Tupperware parties, to name just a few. Each October, the club meeting includes a “Feed the Elephant” auction. “Members bring an item, wrap it up in any way to disguise it, then members bid on it,” explained Patsy Usher. “At the beginning they were mostly baked goods but now we have a variety of items. You just don’t know what you might get.”

     They have also published an enormously popular series of cookbooks since 1976, the most recent entitled “The Best of Effingham”. And each year since the very beginning, the women have sold raffle tickets to award one lucky winner a beautiful hand-stitched quilt. Current members of the quilt committee are Helen Edwards, Julia Rahn, Claudine Arnsdorff, Hazel Lee, Dottie Hamilton and Linda Murray. All proceeds from the ticket sales are used to award a $500 annual club scholarship as well as a $500 scholarship for 4-H students.

     Last year the group made an additional quilt. “For our 50th anniversary, the group made a special quilt that included patches saved from each of the past quilts,” said Edna Allen. The raffle for this commemorative quilt was only open to club members.

     The proceeds from their fundraising endeavors have helped countless Effingham people and community organizations over the years. The group has provided Christmas gifts and food for needy families, delivered Thanksgiving baskets to homebound seniors, helped transplant recipients with needed funds, and hosted birthday parties at the nursing home. They have donated to the Effingham schools, Clyo Fire Department, American Cancer Society, Diabetes Foundation and many other groups.

     The Clyo Homemakers Club’s current officers are: Bonnie Morgan, President; Patsy Usher, Vice President; Julia Rahn, Treasurer; and Betty Allen Sikes, Secretary. The Board consists of Dottie Rahn, Hazel Lee, Brenda Dasher and Past President Patsy Usher. Club Chaplain is Marlene Porter. Scholarships are coordinated by Betty Allen Sikes and Lee Ellen Hanberry. Lee Ellen also manages rentals of the clubhouse. Brenda Dasher coordinates ticket sales for the quilt.

     Currently, the Clyo Homemakers Club has approximately 35 members. “Our members come from throughout Effingham,” said Betty Allen Sikes. “A new member is recommended by a club member and voted on by the club.” She added that 10 new members were added last year.

     “I really enjoy the meetings because it’s a nice group of ladies and I enjoy the fellowship,” said Lee Ellen Hanberry. “You never know what you might learn or who the speaker might be. And you also know you’re doing good for other people. I go home after a meeting always feeling better than before I came.”

     Edna Allen was a charter member of the Clyo Home Demonstration Club. “It’s an honor to continue to carry on what we had started years ago,” she said. “I’ve met so many wonderful people that I would never have met if I didn’t belong to this club.”

     For many club members, the Clyo Homemakers Club is a part of their heritage. Julia Rahn’s mother, May Exley, was a member of the Home Demonstration Club and later joined the Clyo Homemakers Club.Betty Allen Sikes’ mother was charter member Jaunita Allen. “My mother loved this club,” said Betty. “She was the chairperson when our club building was constructed. I’m proud to be a member to honor her and continue to help the community.”

     Bonnie Morgan’s mother, Marie Exley, was also a member. Because her mother was not able to drive to the meetings, Bonnie drove her to the club and eventually became a member. “We’re a close-knit bunch,” she said. “We’re family.”

     Each September, all of the members who are 69 years old and younger host a luncheon to honor the members who are over 70 years old. It’s a special event, with the younger ladies providing the covered dishes and entertainment.

     For half a century, the women of the Clyo Homemakers Club have given of their hearts and souls and dedicated themselves to their community. Fortunately for the people of Effingham, they don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.

Springfield’s Downtown Development Authority

Story By David Pena

The DDA is looking to jump-start the renovation and revitalization of downtown Springfield.

      “If you’re not growing as a city, you’re dying,” says Lonnie Pate, Chairman of the Downtown Development Authority. “Growth is all about improving the community, and you need financial investment to do that, whether it be in housing or retail or any area. And while we have a county-wide Industrial Development Authority and Chamber of Commerce that help the entire county, we simply needed an entity like the DDA whose main focus is attracting new revenues specifically to the downtown area of Springfield.”

     Erin Phillips, Springfield’s Community Development Director and coordinator for the DDA, says, “The city activated its Downtown Development Authority in 2016, which every community in the state is allowed by legislation to do. This allowed Springfield to have a bit more control over what happens to specific properties within the city and to help certain businesses and property owners be eligible for programs that are only available to those within a (designated) DDA area.”

     Springfield created the DDA to both attract new businesses in Springfield, as well as, to oversee revitalization of properties located primarily on Laurel Street. The DDA is moving forward with plans to renovate one such property, the former Walt’s Furniture building, which the city purchased in 2015. Phillips explains, “When the city bought the building, the first question that came up was what exactly to do with it. In part, this was why the DDA was activated in the first place. The city did not  have the means to renovate the building and didn’t want to sell it. Instead, it will be given to the DDA, who will then determine the most ideal use for the structure.”

     The current plan is that the former furniture store will be leased to a tenant who would then sublease it to businesses that include retail and  professional offices as well as a restaurant. The DDA would renovate the building, using a combination of grants and loans, and its primary tenant would then repay the DDA back for the renovation over a fifteen year period in a lease-to-own arrangement. Phillips says the building would have spaces for a variety of tenants, and after the project is finished, the DDA will move on to other buildings downtown.

     “The Mars Theatre is the gem of Effingham,” says Pate. “We are so very proud of that project and its success, but we simply need more options downtown. The Mars is the only thing we have to offer after hours in Springfield, and we’ve got to attract more businesses in the area to compliment the Mars Theatre. Personally, I’d really like to see more restaurants opening up downtown. Hopefully, this (Walt’s Furniture store) project will be the impetus we need to get things really rolling in Springfield.”

     “The DDA is very similar to an Industrial Development Authority, in that it is partially funded by the city, but operates as a completely separate organization from the city government,” explains Phillips.  “The DDA is run by its own independent board, but the board members are appointed by the City Council.”  That’s the reason behind the furniture building being given to the DDA  instead of being put up for auction and turned into warehousing. “It’s just better for the growth of the downtown district,” adds Phillips.

     The DDA is also offering “facade improvement” grants as well as startup grants to new businesses. “The board believes that offering these incentives will hopefully entice new small businesses to open downtown as well as encourage existing business to stay there,” says Phillips.

     This, in turn, will “help promote revitalization and renovation of existing structures in downtown,” the DDA said in a letter to the city council. The facade grants would be matching funds from $500 to $2,500. The DDA would pay up to half of the cost of qualified projects, basically up to $2,500 per project. “It’s designed for any operating business in Springfield to install a new facade or renovate their existing one, provided that the property faces the street or parking area,” says Pate. The grant money could go toward improvements of awnings, signs, walls, paint as well as landscaping and courtyard improvements. In addition, the startup grants would be awarded to businesses that create new jobs downtown. Businesses could get $1,000 per new employee, with a cap of $2,000 per business.

     Pate adds, “I’m really passionate about the work that the DDA is doing. This is where I live, so  I want to make sure that my children’s children have places to go in Springfield. Let’s face it- Springfield has not really been known as a hot spot in Effingham, but by tidying up the existing businesses downtown, these grants would hopefully help attract new businesses for the future.

     Honestly, it’s just like any neighborhood, in that sense. If someone is looking to build a house somewhere, then they first take a look at the properties around it.” And while Pate is pleased at the progress of the renovation of the old Walt’s Furniture building, he emphasizes that the project is just the start of a long process for the city. “This is really only the beginning of a long-term plan for our city; it’s the start of great things to come for Springfield.”

The Loft Café : Different Face, Same Place…Come Eat with Us

“You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces—just good food from fresh ingredients.”

~Julia Child

Story By Katrice Williams Photos By Shelia Scott

The Loft Café definitely offers a delectable dining experience. It has been a noteworthy and sought-after restaurant in the community since its inception in 2010. As the café begins its 8th year of service, its two co-owners, Bruce Kirwan and Zach Wooten, are excited about what’s to come. Though some things like the extraordinary customer service and palate-pleasing products have not changed, the restaurant’s exterior face with its bold, new image has. However, customers have the opportunity to continue to enjoy great food at the same convenient location as before.

     Bruce Kirwan continuously strives to differentiate the café from others. Early on, he wanted to assure that each customer’s experience would be memorable, and he understands that a good amount of effort is needed for that to be a constant reality. Bruce and Zach feel that service is always the essential foundation for a successful venue.

     “We try to give that service that you don’t find in any other areas,” Bruce remarks.

     Bruce and Zach strive to employ individuals who value the importance of high levels of customer service and also understand the substantial difference that they make in customers overall dining experience.

     Regarding employees, Zach states, “I like to see personality and pride in their work.”

     Though the team is small, which works well for the atmosphere dynamics and business demands, each team member strives to remain true to Bruce and Zach’s goals for the business, which is simply: great service, great food, great atmosphere.

     Besides exceptional levels of service, the two co-owners place extremely high standards on all of the products that are served at the restaurant. Though the price is truly reasonable, to a customer’s delight, nothing about the quality of food is compromised. Only the freshest, most choice ingredients are used to prepare each dish. Additionally, there is a very consistent turnover with the items, as nothing is stored for long periods of time. Bruce and Zach commit to product quality by only ordering what is necessary to be prepared within just a few days. This means that there is “never any  spoilage,” no freezer-stored or old food on hand; the “items are in and out.”

     Zach insists, “Anywhere I eat, I’d personally rather pay for a quality meal. You can tell a difference in the materials.”

     All of that is a formula for an exceptional meal. Each order is important and is prepared with that in mind-the two guys would have it no other way.

     “Every order gets ‘done-up.’ It’s done to order. I hand-prepare every order–from every sandwich to the flatbreads…you name it. It’s made fresh when you get it,” Zach comments. He knows that it may take just a little longer to prepare, but feels that it is “well worth it.”

     The team strives to ensure that the atmosphere is consistently welcoming for all of their customers. In fact, Bruce and Zach had a vision for the business early on, and they persist to ensure that even now.

     Bruce mentions, “I wanted a homey environment…trying to give that southern-comfort feel.” Zach agrees that a warm and comfortable atmosphere is not only beneficial but essential.

     The menu has more of an American-traditional type scope. Whether enjoying the wide array of signature sandwiches, including the Corned Beef or Turkey Reubens, which are topped with either sliced corned beef or smoked turkey breast, along with “sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Thousand Island dressing” or the French Dip Au Jus Sandwich, made with “Au Jus dipped roast beef with Provolone cheese on an Italian roll,” it’s hard to go wrong with any of the sensational sandwiches. Many customers prefer the variety of wraps that are offered, which may include the famous Club Wrap, with its “smoked turkey breast, ham, thinly sliced bacon, Provolone cheese, lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise” or even the Chicken Caesar Wrap, which includes “grilled chicken breast, romaine lettuce, shredded Italian cheese and Italian dressing.”

     Further, the two agree that the delicious flatbreads that are made similar to pizza are definitely a big hit with many customers. From the Buffalo Chicken Flatbread, topped with “grilled chicken breast fillet smothered in homemade buffalo sauce, mozzarella cheese and a drizzle of Ranch dressing” to the Chicken Pesto Flatbread with its “grilled chicken breast, mozzarella cheese, Portobello mushrooms and homemade peso sauce;” these are truly tasty and sure to please.

     Regarding the flat breads, Bruce states, “No one else really does it for the price…we do them pizza-style.”

     Bruce and Zach admit that their fresh salads are often a fan favorite. Whether it is the Greek Salad made with “lettuce, sliced ham, feta cheese, black olives, tomatoes, red onions and house Greek dressing” or their chicken and tuna salads, customers do not leave disappointed.

     “They’re fresh…topped with a lot of ingredients. These are always the best. They’re not pre-made, sitting in a cooler all day,” Bruce insists.

     Interestingly enough, Bruce and Zach take pride in making as many homemade dishes as possible, including both their pasta and potato salads, along with their salad dressings.

     Bruce mentions, “Anything that we can effectively create, we try to.”

     The two co-owners agree that franchising ideas and other business ventures may be entertained sometime in the future; however, they are both pleased with the direction that the business is going.

     Bruce Kirwan and Zach Wooten, along with their team at the Loft Café, plan to continue to keep customers first, knowing that real quality will always count. They welcome all, saying, “Come eat with us.”

Christi Ricker : Moving Forward…Together

Story By David Pena

If elected mayor, Christi Ricker’s focus is to unite Rincon and continue to ensure the success and safety of its residents.

     Mayoral candidate Christi Shores Ricker is definitely a woman with a plan. “My goal as mayor is to become the driving force who helps Rincon grow in the right direction while still protecting its citizens and their future.” She says that her experience as a City Council-member has not only prepared her for the position, but has partly been her impetus to run. That is, along with some divine intervention. “My friend, a former council member, suggested that I run for City Council after attending our Sunday School Christmas party. My Sunday School teacher also agreed that I would be an asset as council-member. ” After initially dismissing the idea, Ricker discussed it with her mother, who prompted her to pray over it. She then conferred with her pastor, and ultimately Ricker had a change of heart about her political future. “I’m now happy to be serving my fourth year on City Council, she says, “and I hope everyone is pleased with my work thus far.”

     During her tenure, the Athletic Department  hired two full-time employees, and all of its programs have grown, notably adding cheerleading, lacrosse and basketball to the city’s offerings. “We’ve also built up our baseball fields and constructed a concession stand at Macomber Park. In addition, we are set to have our first movie night in the park, and we’ve had the circus here for the past two years.” Ricker adds that while she’s  pleased with the work she’s accomplished, there’s definitely room for improvement. “I really feel that we could’ve done more, and as mayor I hope to continue to improve and grow these programs and cultural activities.”

     One of Ricker’s concerns when she became a council-member was the city’s business district, an area she’d like to continue to focus on if elected. “I feel that there’s room for improvement in the business district, especially in the area of beautification. I suggested that we hire a marketing company to help us with the vacant properties.” While Ricker shares the sentiments of most Rincon citizens that more restaurants should be added in the area, especially Chic-fil-A, she also feels that the city’s focus should center around local revenue. “I think we should help the local businesses that are already here,” she says. “It’s in the best interest of our community as a whole, in my opinion.”

     Ricker has resided in Effingham County for the past twenty years along with her husband Brian and their two children, Alexis and Alaina. As proprietors of Clean Duct, LLC since 2008, Ricker says the couple have been vested in the city’s business community for nearly a decade. “Although I grew up in Richmond Hill, my husband and I chose to live here because we both have family in the area, and it would be a great place to raise our own family.” The couple have been active members in Rincon First Baptist Church, where Ricker has served as an outreach leader, care group coordinator, and a founding member of a mission group.

     Ricker says that she’s well-equipped to handle the position, despite the misconception about it. “Most people feel that (being elected) mayor is a step up from being a council-member; however, in a ‘weak mayoral’ system like we have, that’s not the case.” So it begs the question, “Why the bid for mayor of Rincon?” Ricker says that the position is integral to the cohesiveness of the city and its government. “The mayor should be the one to bring us all together and the person who makes sure that all the pertinent information has been brought forward. All of the council needs to be included in the critical decision-making process, and at times during my service this has not been the case. I’m ready to be that person who helps move Rincon forward.”

New Life : A Blooming Business

Helping to Brighten Lives in Effingham for over Thirty Years

Story By David Pena

We’re in the business of emotions,” explains Stephanie Long, owner and operator of New Life Flowers and Gifts in Rincon, “and since you deal with people’s feelings in my line of work, you tend to get closer to them.” This year the popular floral and gift shop is celebrating its thirty-third year in business. And because it’s the only store of its kind in the area, New Life Flowers and Gifts has had to expand its product lines, which now include Yeti tumblers, Scout Bags and WoodWick candles, just to name a few. “We also started offering bridal registries and baby shower registries, while expanding our baby lines in the process,” she adds.

     In addition to offering a wide array of gifts, New Life is also a full-service florist as well. As Stephanie will tell you, flowers have always been in her blood. “I grew up in the floral industry, so I tell folks that I was born in a flower box,” she says with a laugh. For thirty years Long’s mother had her own floral shop in Savannah, but Stephanie was ironically not planning to follow in her mother’s footsteps. “I told everyone I would never do this,” she laughs, “but it’s all I’ve ever known, and I simply love what I do. You have to love it because it involves long hours and working weekends and most holidays, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

     Long explains that one of the many perks of working in the floral industry is having the opportunity to help her clients celebrate their good times and help to comfort them in times of bereavement. “I really feel like flowers help to provide comfort to people, so that’s why funerals are generally the most fulfilling type of work that we do,” she says. Long-time employee Dawn Usher echoes the sentiment, saying, “It’s the last thing a family can do for their loved one, so it’s something that I’m always proud to be a part of.” Conversely, providing wedding arrangements  gives the staff just as much satisfaction, albeit in a different way. “We also do a lot of weddings,” continues  Stephanie, “and I always seem to get really close to my brides. I’ve been doing this for so long that I’m actually doing some of their childrens’ weddings as well, so that’s neat.”

     Many of Long’s customers have been coming to her for as long as she’s been in business, a fact not lost on her.  “I’ve seen so many changes in this community over the years, and we’ve grown right along with it. I love my customers, and I’m pleased to be working with various commercial clients as well. In fact, we specialize in our commercial work. For instance, we’ve been proud to serve Gulfstream for over twenty years.”

     With the holidays just around the corner, Long and her team are going to have their annual Christmas Open House in November. During the event, the price of the store’s entire inventory is reduced by twenty percent. “We’ve done this every year because we just love helping people get ready for the holidays. We always have a complete line of ornaments, garlands and wreaths for them to choose from,” Long says. The Open House will be held this year on November 10 from 4 to 8 pm and on November 11 from 10 to 5 pm. “There will be great Christmas music playing throughout the store, and we’ll be serving refreshments and giving out door prizes. The customers really look forward to it, so we invite everyone to come in and begin the holiday season with us. It will be just like a Christmas wonderland at New Life Flowers and Gifts!”