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How Forsyth County small businesses work to stand out from chains
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Community Cup employee, Celeste Wideman (right), helping two women while they chat over a cup of coffee. (Photo by Sarina Starling)

Editor's note: This article was written by Forsyth Central High School students in partnership with the Forsyth County News.

By Emma Harding and Sarina Starling

Year after year, local businesses across the nation are replaced by corporate chains, destroying the community charm that these spaces provide to the area. In Forsyth County alone, several businesses such as Rucker Pet, Norman’s Landing and Parsons Gifts have experienced the wrath of large corporations.

While some residents are concerned about the loss of Cumming’s community charm, there are still some businesses who persevere through the challenges presented to them.

Take The Chill Hill for example. A small, local ice cream shop located in the middle of Vickery Village. During the last eight years, The Chill Hill has seen the advantages and disadvantages of being located in an area experiencing drastic changes.

“It’s hard for a small business to survive these days,” said Paul Stewart, owner of The Chill Hill. “Sometimes you have to really think about what you are [as a business.]”

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The Chill Hill offers many tasty treats to all while maintaining a fun and modern atmosphere. (Photo by Sarina Starling)

Stewart believes The Chill Hill stands out from larger ice cream providers because it lets customers choose as many toppings as they want without experiencing an increase in price. The self-serve topping bar has toppings that are relatively inexpensive and for just an additional dollar, customers have access to all of the toppings they could dream of. Besides ice cream, another sweet snack served are the fruity popsicles sold during the summer.

“[You] have to have a passion in order to start [a] business,” Stewart said.

Stewart’s passion is what allows for The Chill Hill to stand out when compared to its competitors like Bruster’s, Dairy Queen and local grocery stores. He continues to promote a family atmosphere to draw in more customers.

“It may be the only time they’re together,” he stated.

Another local business located in Vickery Village, Brits Clothiers, has also seen the drastic changes within the community.

Several years back, Debra Bowen, owner of Brits Clothiers, jumped on the opportunity to open her business and share what she had created – a location for men in the Forsyth County community to buy quality products that are characterized by the charm of the South.

“I saw a void in the area for what Brits would offer, as there were no lifestyle stores in the immediate area,” Bowen said. “I felt it was time to branch out and enter entrepreneurship, something I had always wanted to do.”

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Brits Clothiers stands out in Vickery Village as being one of the few clothing stores in the area. (Photo by Sarina Starling)

Bowen sets herself apart with her degree in fashion merchandising from the University of Georgia and her experience working in corporate America for 30 years.

“I contribute much of my/our success to the skills that I gained through college and working with top notch corporations, but also to the staff that works alongside me, my valuable vendors and most importantly the wonderful customers, who have supported our small business over the last three-plus years,” Bowen said.

Like most local businesses, Bowen faces fierce competition every day, most of which comes from the internet.

“Customers have access to anything and everything, at the click of a button,” Bowen said.

Bowen combats this in several different ways and uses the Internet as a tool to support her business, not harm it.

“We feel that our clientele is one of the best strategies of marketing and we focus to provide a Southern hospitable experience that they want to share with their family and friends,” Bowen said.

Although Brits Clothiers is relatively new, Bowen plans to expand the business within this upcoming year.

“I see Brits continuing to grow and prosper over the next [several] years. Our goal is to continue to serve the clientele we have, while continuing to add new loyal clientele,” Bowen said.

More recently, there have been locations springing up all over town that boasts the local label and stay true to the community that they serve. Community Cup, a local coffeehouse which opened its doors last year, has already had quite an impact. Due to the influence of their social media presence along with the business’s goal to raise funds for the childhood cancer foundation, CURE, the cafe got a head start in becoming a crowd favorite within the community.

Jalynn Barr, owner of Community Cup, is no stranger to the industry.

“I have worked in the foodservice industry for about 20 years, so I understand a lot about service and what is required [of it],” she said.

Local business success doesn’t just come easily and Barr is a firm believer that the location of her business is what has contributed to hers.

“I think being in the ‘heart’ of the city helps to cement the fact that we want to not only be located in our community but involved as well,” she said, adding, “I also think that the city of Cumming is on the brink of becoming something larger and would like to think that I’m at the forefront of all the growth in the city.”