This week’s blog post is on a town that is near and dear to me as someone who comes from a large family of small business owners. Sparta, Ga is located in Hancock County and is actually the county seat. In the early 1800s Sparta and Hancock County were the cotton capital of the world. They remained at the top of the cotton crop world up until after World War I when the boll weevil epidemic decimated the cotton fields and the cotton industry died out.
Today driving down Broad Street, the main street in the town shows rows of empty storefronts on either side. Oh there is the local newspaper office, an H & R Block, a hair salon and a couple of small restaurants, but the town used to have 37 small businesses and now has been reduced to less than a dozen overall. At one time they boasted a lumber mill and a furniture store which went into the old cotton warehouse on Hamilton Street and there were good jobs again with decent benefits, but in the 1990s both businesses closed their doors and moved their operations down to Mexico.
There was talk and plans to have a Walmart Super Center come into town, but when the owner of the local IGA store learned of these plans, he bought up the parcel of land Walmart wanted and now that land sits empty and overrun with weeds. The man that owned the IGA sold the store to someone else a few years ago, but the land still sits unused when it could be used to bring new jobs into the town to help stimulate the economy.
I spent several hours in Sparta this past weekend, filming for the YouTube channel and I spoke to some of the town’s people, but right now the only large employer still there is the state prison that employs around 300 people. After wrapping up filming and heading back to the Atlanta are and home, I restarted doing some more research on Sparta and Hancock County and found something that gave me some hope for the town. It turns out that the old furniture factory has been bought again and now is the new home of Sparta Imperial Mushrooms, where they grow shiitake mushrooms for local restaurants and Farmer’s markets in the greater Atlanta area, so there is some promise there.
I don’t want to give away too much of the story of Sparta as I will be posting my video this week on YouTube, so be sure to stop by and check out my short behind the scenes videos for now!