10 Country: Joseph's Big Idea - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

10 Country: Joseph's Big Idea

August 17, 2006

Tifton-- A person who sees the big picture can do what seems impossible to many. Take the Tifton-Tift County Public Library, which needed a temporary home.

Not many places were big enough for tens of thousands of books, and the libraries like it are notoriously broke financially.

Some people may have snickered when a man suggested a big idea. Sometimes the solution to a problem sits before our eyes, as in the case of the Tifton-Tift County Public Library that needed a temporary home for a long time while workers repaired its permanent home.

"The renovation is so comprehensive that it may take two years," says Sara Paulk head librarian. The library's board of directors looked everywhere for a place for the library to move. They considered dozens of buildings, but either they were too small for 100,000 books, or the rent was more than what the library could afford.

Something needed to happen fast or the library would become homeless.

Enter Joseph Carter, a state senator and attorney, who did what many people thought was a waste of his time. "I know it's one of those things where you think you can't make that happen, the David and Goliath situation," says Joseph.

Goliath was Wal-Mart and David was the small town of Tifton, Georgia, but it had a very profitable Wal-Mart. Joseph had the idea of contacting Wal-Mart, but in a multi-national corporation who would consider the idea?

"That took some doing, getting to the right person," says Joseph.

Two nice surprises happened when he found the right person. "They approached it with a mindset: How can make this happen," says Joseph. And, surprisingly, the huge corporation felt community minded, not all that concerned about the positive public relations value.

To make it happen involved a key player right under Joseph's nose, the manager of the new Wal-Mart store. "The store hadn't been cleaned in about five years. We had some challenges. I thought it was a great idea," says Alonzo McCauley.

An idea whose time had come since Joseph Carter worried about the once thriving shopping center becoming an eyesore. Two problems had the chance of getting solved: The library could have enough space to continue operating, and a once thriving shopping center would get new life, since many of the businesses closed when Wal-Mart moved to a bigger store about a mile away.

"I don't like to see old buildings that are still functional and not being put to use," says Kim Hanniford, a mother who brings her children to the library twice a week, and use to shop in the now vacant store. But would Wal-Mart let the library use its building for two years?

"It took many phone calls, faxes and e-mails," says Joseph. Wal-Mart agreed. "It wasn't something that happened in 48 hours," says Joseph.

"Pretty cool place," says Sara Paulk with a fully functioning library with electric doors to greet patrons. In the process Joseph Carter's belief in people got confirmed.

"Good folks are just good folks no matter where you find them," says Joseph. But what about dealing with representatives of multi-national company often perceived as concerned with profit margins? "Successful companies many times, the folks inside are just good people trying to make good things happen," says Joseph.

What about communities with vacant Wal-Mart stores? Of course, the company wants to lease unused space, but in special cases, like the Tifton-Tift County Public Library, Wal-Mart put community benefit ahead of rental income.

How would a community explore the possible use of a vacant Wal-Mart building? The path starts at home. "I would ask that you speak with your local Wal-Mart manager," says Alonzo, the Tifton Wal-Mart manager who played a critical role in win-win agreement.

Besides using the vacated Tifton store as a temporary library, Wal-Mart allowed old stores for Hurricane Katrina relief areas, and one became a church.

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