Everybody has been so amazing, so welcoming, far beyond what I thought would happen.Heather Wright, owner of Wright Wicks
SPRINGFIELD — Downtown Springfield is fertile ground for business opportunities. Even the lingering presence of COVID-19 hasn’t kept new stores and eateries from sprouting in recent months.
“Once we opened, we were always open,” said James Siegmund, who owns Wanderings Design & Decor at 507 N. Laurel St. with his wife, Tiffany. “We never really shut down. I think’s because Effingham County took a different approach mentally to the pandemic.
“I’m not saying it violated any rules. It just wasn’t like Savannah and a lot of other cities where they shut down and people were more open to that.”
City Manager Matt Morris said that Springfield City Council and Downtown Development Authority aim to foster entrepreneurship, not impede it.
“I guess it comes from the top but Springfield has been largely insulated from (pandemic-related business losses) because the city doesn’t have an oppressive government,” Morris said. “I don’t think the city council is looking to regulate small business to that extent and I think that’s why we have been blessed with people who assume their own risk and participate in the economy, and that’s helped all these businesses keep going.”
The Siegmunds had high hopes when bought and completely remodeled the Wanderings building in October 2019 and that hasn’t changed. They appreciate local government efforts to maintain Springfield’s history and charm.
“We looked around and we loved the feel of Springfield,” James Siegmund said. “This just felt like a perfect fit. Everybody here has been very welcoming.”
The community-wide embrace surprised Siegmund, who was raised in a small town in Texas. His wife, who runs the business, hails from the Miami, Fla., area.
“We are not from here so we are kind of outsiders in that aspect but we have been welcomed with open arms,” he said. “Everybody has been helpful in everything.”
Sharing that facilitative spirit, the Siegmunds have become Springfield ambassadors, frequently telling others about the city’s virtues. They recently tried to convince a friend who is a massage therapist to set up shop here.
“They were in another town and were locked into a lease for too long to get out of it,” he said.
Dana Kirkland, an Effingham County native, is another devout Springfield proponent. The owner of Paddles, a coffee shop, vividly recalls the downward spiral the city endured following the 1997 construction of the Ga. Hwy 21 bypass that steers thousands of potential customers away from downtown on a daily basis.
“Just watching all the businesses dry up — I was gone when Blockers (Fine Foods) closed — was heartbreaking,” she said.
Kirkland left the area around 2000 and bounced around the globe for years with her husband (Patrick) before returning after he retired from the military.
“Every time we would come back (to Springfield to visit), you could see that things were starting to rebound,” she said. “When we finally moved back and were making final decisions about what we wanted to do — taking a look around to see what was available and looking at the vacant spaces in Springfield — you could see that there is a desire to bring Springfield back to what it was. Through the efforts of the (Downtown Development Authority) and the Springfield City Council to bring businesses, it’s really helped.”
Located at 401 N. Laurel St., Paddle’s has thrived despite opening just five months before the advent of the pandemic. In addition to delicious coffee, it specializes in quiche and sells numerous tasty pastries.
“It’s pretty much the same (since opening) but our menu items have changed as we respond to what the community wants,” Kirkland said.
She is eager to respond to her customers’ requests.
“The community here in Springfield is amazing,” she said. “The people who live here and who are coming here to live support the businesses here and they want to see everybody grow. They want Springfield to be what it is becoming.”
Visitors from nearby cities are helping make Springfield successful, Kirkland added.
“We get people from Rincon and Guyton because we have a hometown feel,” she said. “That’s one of the things we say at Paddles. You come for the coffee and the kindness but you stay for the smalltown feel that you get.”
Chef Robert Chermely experienced that feeling in a big way. The Gloucester, Mass., native and former Pennsylvania resident was showered with friendliness after he moved here to work at Central Station Bakery and Eatery, located in the former Blocker’s building at 116 N. Laurel St.
“It took me all afternoon to put up my mailbox, probably three times as long as it should have,” Chermely joked. “I had people come up and ask me all kinds of questions about myself. Some of them brought cookies.”
Springfield’s cordial nature isn’t the only reason he likes the city.
“I can walk or ride my bike to work,” he said. “I had other job offers in Savannah but I would have had to put up with all the traffic there. I took less money live a more laid-back lifestyle.”
Owned by Becky Tebeau, Central Station is a prime example of a Springfield business that offers unique products. Chermely developed his culinary skills at several stops across the nation, enabling him to tantalize palates with a wide array of dishes. He was once part of the competitive barbecue scene in Memphis, Tenn.
Central Station station are made with fresh baked bread. One of its menu staples features meat loaf made according to a secret family recipe and sourdough.
While talking about her establishment, Tebeau pointed to a framed Bible verse (Matthew 6:11) hanging outside the kitchen wall. It says, “Give us this day our daily bread.”
“That’s our motto,” she said.
Tebeau is as proud of her renovated building as she is her food. She had the foundation replaced but stuck close to the structure’s origin, keeping numerous old fixtures and furniture from about a century ago.
Central Station’s walls are adorned with old plates and products discovered during the renovation. A cabinet includes soft drinks and even cans of oil from part of the building's days as a gas station.
Heather Wright’s 550 square feet of business space lacks the history of the former Blocker’s building but she is proud of it and glad to be in it. She operates Wright Wicks, which she owns with her husband, Josh, at 105 N. Laurel St. The candle store opened almost four months ago.
“We were here in June (2020) to visit family and decided we love the place,” she said. “That was in Ellabell but we actually found a house in Springfield.”
Ironically, Wright decided to start her business after receiving encouragement and information from Kirkland.
“(My husband and I) were waiting on things (after moving) like my coffee pot, which was very important to me,” Wright said. “We were in Paddle’s — it has wi-fi and we were on our computers trying to get stuff done — and Dana was very helpful in telling us things about the area. At that time, I had no idea I would be doing what I’m doing now.
“It wasn’t even a thought in my mind but we just fell in love with the small-town charm and hearing all the small talk going on around you.”
Wright makes candles in her store. She adds clean-burning cotton wicks and fragrant oils to a heated soy-coconut concoction.
Some of her candles, called Mr. Wright Wicks, feature manly scents chosen by her husband. The store also sells other homeade items.
“I wanted to be able to offer a spot for other local crafters that make soaps and lotions, and things like that,” Wright said.
Wright is pleased with the way things have gone so far.
“Everything just kind of fell into place,” she said. “Everybody has been so amazing, so welcoming, far beyond what I thought would happen.”
Wright believes her new hometown’s future is brighter than her collection of candles..
“I feel like Springfield has lots to offer,” she said. “There are antique shops and restaurants. I come from a small town and I know people like to shop local.”
Wright’s attitude is in synch with her fellow new business owners in town.
“I think everything is looking up for Springfield,” Siegmund said.