George Dean stands outside his Russell Street clothing store, greeting each passerby with a wave and a smile. When he steps inside to chat up customers, each seems to know everything about him, backstory and all.
George Dean is Orangeburg County. A 1964 alumnus of S.C. State University, and before that a graduate of the segregated Wilkinson High School, Dean is the living embodiment of his hometown. He is a hardworking, small-town guy with a love for his Bulldogs and a passion for the revitalization of his struggling area.
“I’m part of the inner fabric of this community,” he said, proudly.
That fabric has been stressed to the hilt since the S.C. House Ways and Means higher education subcommittee voted last month in favor of temporarily closing the university in order to fix the school’s financial deficit, which according to various legislative sources ranges from $10 million to more than $18.6 million.
While the committee has since set aside that proposal in favor of approaches that would keep the school open but reform its administration and provide greater legislative oversight, it has nonetheless set off debate about what the school’s closure would mean to the community.
It could mean trouble for business owners such as Dean, who count on the university’s faculty, staff and students to be customers. His first store, George’s Boutique, opened in the black business district along the railroad tracks next to S.C. State in 1970 and has been an Orangeburg mainstay ever since.
“The economic impact of the closing of that university for one month would be devastating to this community,” he said during an interview inside his current store, Deans Ltd. “Period and absolute. The facts are right in front of us.”
Gregg Robinson, the executive director of the Orangeburg County Development Commission, said a potential closing would affect stores such as Dean’s the most.
“It’s the local dry cleaner, it’s the accommodations, the sporting events, it’s the overall impact of an institution of higher learning and all of the dollars that the students spend,” he said. “Every single one of those students is responsible for a significant investment in a yearly fashion in the local economy. They’re a vital part.”
Read more here.