Morgan Schaffer, Staff Writer

The Federal Commerce Department reported Jan. 12 that retail sales in 2011 were the highest they have been in a decade. The department found that full year sales in 2011 grew 7.7 percent from 2010 statistics. This could mean good things for local communities, including Oxford.

Restaurants are more often suggested than retail shops for new businesses in Oxford, according to Director of Economic Development Alan Kyger.

“People can wait for a new pair of shoes,” Kyger said. “Food service is something that is immediate and needed on a daily basis. Retail shopping tends to be more sporadic.”

Current Mayor and long-time resident of Oxford Richard Keebler spoke on behalf of what it takes to get businesses here.

“People think nothing of jumping in their cars and driving miles to their favorite shopping malls but it is tough to get retail businesses in a town this size,” Keebler said. “Restaurants are the most commonly recommended.”

Oxford has seen retail stores close and open during the recession. Keebler said Magnolia, a retail store, recently opened.

However, Hibbett Sports, the only sports equipment store of its kind in Oxford, recently closed. Is the future looking bright? Keebler said it is still too early to tell.

“We’re certainly seeing some new interests in Oxford, but it is mostly with restaurants,” Keebler said. “When people come to Oxford, from March on, for Mom’s weekend, Dad’s weekend and other reasons, they will always need to eat, which helps explain the dearth of restaurants in the city.”

Jim Everslage, owner of Karisma, a clothing store uptown, and Miami Beach, a tanning salon, has been in the area for 26 years. Everslage said his business has been very successful until very recently. He also mentions that most people who attend the university do not understand the severity of the e conomic situation.

“It is worse than students think. Business was good, but it has dramatically changed,” Everslage said.

Everslage mentions that aside from the economy, the Internet may also be related to the problems facing local businesses.

Other retailers said they have had healthy sales.

“Business has been good,” said Karen Vaught, manager of Wild Berry.

Another local retail shop, Bill’s Art Store, has been around for several years. After the owner’s passing, his sister Barb Berry, the current store manager, decided to reopen the store.

“The store was closed for six months, and I reopened the store the last week of August,” Berry said. “Since then, we have been doing really well. Thanks to the Miami fine arts and architecture programs, we are doing really well.”

Berry also said that prior to Bill’s death, the business was still doing very well.

From 2009 until the present time, Oxford has seen more businesses opening than closing with 2011 being the most positive year, according to Kyger. This falls in accordance with the Federal Commerce Department’s report.

Overall, is business looking up?

Senior and local Oxford resident, Alex Baxter said the community is improving, more so with restaurants than retail shops. He notes that the biggest change was when the Super Wal-Mart was opened in Oxford and when more apartments were opened Uptown.

“We have more chain food options as opposed to locally owned places and definitely more restaurants than retail stores,” Baxter said. “If you can stay open in the summer, then business is going to be successful and restaurants can do that.”