Crowds flocked to Gainesville square for weekend of shopping

While big box stores across the nation absorbed volumes of rabid shoppers for Black Friday, the Gainesville square saw a high number of shoppers all weekend.

Small Business Saturday, also known as Shop Local Saturday, is a national counter-effort to the effects Black Friday has on chain stores that aims to bring the same traffic to local businesses.

It benefited a number of businesses in downtown Gainesville, which also saw record Black Friday traffic.

“We saw good traffic both Friday and Saturday this year,” said Don Griffin, owner of Frames You Nique. “Normally we see less on Friday and more Saturday, but this year it was really about the same number of people coming through both days.”

Griffin said it was encouraging to see shoppers in small, local businesses on Black Friday, when traditionally shoppers have been known to flock to the box stores.

“This was probably the best weekend for us in a while,” he said. “Actually, (Sunday) we saw a good number of people come through as well. It’s been the best weekend we’ve had in a good long time, of that after-Thanksgiving shopping.”

Sarah Beth Little, manager at J.R. Crider’s in Gainesville, said “both days went really well” for the store, and she also saw a bit more traffic on Friday.

“Black Friday was actually record sales for our store, which was awesome,” Little said. “But Shop Local was really great, too. We got a lot of local support, which is great to see.”

Little called the traffic in the square all weekend “tremendous.”

Local eateries benefited from increased shoppers, as well.

Ciera White, manager at Avocados Restaurant, said Shop Local Saturday brought additional traffic to Avocados.

“I believe it did,” White said. “And around the holidays, we see a lot of families together, so big parties come in all weekend.”

Griffin said he would attribute the increase in post-Thanksgiving traffic to a number of things. He said he thinks the economy getting better has helped, and the closure of some national stores for the holidays probably contributed as well.

“This year a number of the chain stores, I understand, were closed,” he said. “That may have a bearing. Frankly, you need a day off, and I think it was a good thing for those companies to let their employees off for the holiday. They’re going to recoup that.”

Thus, the increased traffic in Gainesville was “a little bit of everything,” he said.

“It doesn’t hurt that the weather was 70 degrees,” he said. “There were also a number of merchants who got together to do something as far as promoting the square, which helped. And the Main Street Gainesville group has done a great job of getting people downtown and making them aware again that we are here.”

Little agreed.

“The square is really growing up,” she said. “It’s thriving now.”

Crowds flocked to Gainesville square for weekend of shopping

5K race to benefit children fighting neurofibromatosis

What makes a hero?

One might say a hero is courageous. A hero is a person who has overcome adversity to achieve something great. A hero is a person who fights a tough battle, and a hero is someone who wins.

Six-year-old Robert Owenby is a little hero.

Owenby was diagnosed with neurofibromatosis at 2 years old. The genetic disorder affects one in 3,000 children, causing tumors to grow on nerve endings throughout the body.

It is more common than muscular dystrophy, Huntington’s disease and cystic fibrosis, though many have never heard of it.

“Robert was about 8 months old when we noticed some puffiness behind his right eye,” said Robert’s father, Wesley Owenby. “We thought it might be some sinus problems, but the doctor said, ‘Well, let’s get an MRI just in case.’

“A few days later we get the dreaded call that says, ‘Hey, we found something.’”

Wesley Owenby said it took years for an accurate diagnosis to be made. In his six years, Robert’s had 16 MRIs, three surgeries and a possible fourth on the way.

“But he’s doing great,” Wesley Owenby said. “There are a lot of kids with NF who are worse off than Robert.”

Four years ago, when Robert was diagnosed, his mother, Carolanne Owenby, had an idea for a way to help him and children like him.

“I thought, ‘I love to run, so why don’t I try to find something that I can do that’s positive while we’re here?’” she said.

Their family, including Robert and his sister Kinley, had moved to Philadelphia for treatment. There, Carolanne Owenby joined a racing team benefiting the Children’s Tumor Foundation.

“Little did I know, that would become about 85 percent of my life,” she said.

The Owenbys, along with family friend Tara Rogers, started Little Heroes of North Georgia, LLC, which has raised more than $100,000 in four years for the foundation. Robert is not the only child in Hall County diagnosed with neurofibromatosis. Anna Lee Weber, 13, is now NF-free after a childhood battle with the disease, and 4-year-old Sean Robertson was diagnosed three years ago.

This year, the organization designed specifically to fundraise for an NF cure will host its annual Little Heroes 5K with a new campaign: “I know a fighter.”

“These kids have to fight a lot earlier than they ever should have,” Carolanne Owenby said. “A lot of them are struggling for their lives. Many have lost limbs, have lost eyes, or they have lost their livelihood and ability to function as a normal child.”

Though Robert is healthy and happy, Carolanne said she feels for the children like him who are not.

The Little Heroes 5K will be at 1:30 p.m. Feb. 21 at the American Legion in Gainesville. The fun-filled event offers bounce houses, face-painting and crafts for the kids, as well as a “hero dash” for children, a 1-mile fun run and the 5K race.

Registration opened last week and can be completed online at and Last year, more than 300 people participated, and the Owenbys hope to see that number increase this year.

Carolanne Owenby said she hopes the event will increase awareness of the genetic condition from which her son suffers.

“Really, for Wesley and I, this is a positive way for us to deal with something that is negative,” Carolanne Owenby said. “God could have picked anybody to be Robert’s mom, and he picked me. He trusted me. And it is my duty, as his mother, to make our community, our friends and our family more aware.”

5K race to benefit children fighting neurofibromatosis

Otro dolor de cabeza, Walter Veizaga se suma a las bajas en The Strongest

El volante atigrado Walter Veizaga se perderá el resto del Torneo Apertura por una fractura en el mano derecha. El jugador se lesionó en el cotejo frente a San José y hoy se presentó con una venda en el sector afectado.

Otro dolor de cabeza, Walter Veizaga se suma a las bajas en The Strongest

Carlos Chávez seguirá en la cárcel de Palmasola

La realidad no cambió. El dirigente de fútbol Carlos Chávez seguirá detenido preventivamente en la cárcel de Palmasola, pues el juez quinto de Instrucción en lo Penal de Sucre, Roberto Valdivieso, declaró infundados los incidentes de incompetencia, falta de acción, nulidad de declaración y nulidad de imputación planteados por su defensa. En la misma audiencia, fueron rechazados los mismos recursos presentados por Pablo Salomón, exsecretario general de la FBF.

Carlos Chávez seguirá en la cárcel de Palmasola

El Gobierno nipón pide a Tokio que pague la cuarta parte del estadio olímpico

El Gobierno nipón asumirá la mitad del coste del estadio olímpico para los Juegos de Tokio 2020 y quiere que el ayuntamiento de la capital aporte una cuarta parte del presupuesto, que asciende a 1.190 millones de dólares, informó hoy la cadena pública NHK.

El Gobierno nipón pide a Tokio que pague la cuarta parte del estadio olímpico

Wilstermann consigue un triunfo frente a Sport Boys por 2 a 0 en el valle

El equipo de Wilstermann venció la noche del sábado 2 a 0 a Sport Boys de Warnes, en partido correspondiente a la fecha 17 de la Liga Profesional del Fútbol Boliviano (LPFB), disputado en el estadio Félix Capriles de la ciudad de Cochabamba.

Wilstermann consigue un triunfo frente a Sport Boys por 2 a 0 en el valle

Don’t forget, Gainesville council runoff is Tuesday

Just 123 ballots were cast during early voting for Gainesville’s Ward 3 City Council runoff on Dec. 1.

And only 25 absentee ballots have been returned for counting.

That’s cause for concern for Barbara Brooks and Andre Cheek, who are vying to replace Councilwoman Myrtle Figueras as the representative for the city’s historically African-American neighborhoods and growing Latino community.

“I’d like to see a robust turnout, but that’s what everyone’s predicting,” Brooks, a retired school social worker, said of the low turnout.

About 18 percent of registered voters in the city cast ballots in the November general election, the highest turnout in recent municipal elections. But officials expect that number to fall in the runoff.

“I’ve been working overtime to get out the vote,” Cheek, an outreach unit program coordinator for the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice, said. “The cost to the city is an extreme amount (if people don’t vote).”

It’s particularly important for Cheek that turnout is strong.

Cheek claimed 28 percent of the vote earlier this month, while Brooks captured 44 percent. A candidate must receive 50 percent plus one of the total votes to win outright.

“My committee has been super busy (in the weeks since),” Cheek said. “We have not slept, I like to think.”

Knocking on doors, making phone calls and moving campaign signs to attract more visibility, Cheek said her campaign is focused on attracting new voters.

Brooks, meanwhile, has held meet-and-greets with neighbors and businesses, while also mailing cards and repairing campaign signs

“You name it and that’s been my work over the last few weeks,” she said.

Brooks has also been attending council work sessions and meetings to stay on top of the latest issues and concerns in the community, she said.

“You want to have some idea of what’s going on,” she added. “The issues don’t stop coming.”

Cheek, a noted note-taker who measures her words, urged voters to do their research on each candidate’s qualifications, experience and preparation for the job.

“Consider all of those things and then make a decision about who will be the most qualified candidate for this seat over the next four years,” she added.

Win or lose, both candidates said the race had been hugely beneficial for Ward 3.

The level of competition and interest has never been greater, as evidenced by the number of candidates and voter turnout in the general election.

“I think, at the very least, a level of interest has been shown in who represents Ward 3 and what issues are important to Ward 3,” Brooks said. “It’s almost like a time for Ward 3 to wake up. I don’t mean that it’s been asleep. But there’s new energy, excitement.”

Cheek agreed.

“This is a historic event for our community,” Cheek said. “I’d like to think that as those residents of Ward 3 reflect on this process, it will kind of ignite them” to become more involved.

Don’t forget, Gainesville council runoff is Tuesday

Lawsuit challenges immigration jail policy

A Gainesville attorney claims his client, a legal, permanent U.S. resident, faced an immigration hold for months in the Hall County Jail.

Attorney Arturo Corso filed a habeas corpus petition Sept. 22 in the names of Nicolas Montalvan Ceballos and Jose Santos Delgado, two men charged with misdemeanors and facing 287(g) immigration holds.

A habeas corpus petition challenges the incarceration of an inmate or prisoner.

The 287(g) program is a federal initiative that trains local law enforcement officers in identifying undocumented persons. The Hall County Detention Center entered the program in 2007.

“When the (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) Agents act upon (the sheriff’s) 287(g) hold, they act to forcibly remove an accused person from the jurisdiction of the courts where the criminal complaint is still pending,” according to the petition.

The civil action names Hall County Sheriff Gerald Couch and Solicitor Stephanie Woodard.

Corso said Delgado, 26, was wrongly accused of simple battery under the Family Violence Act. Delgado was arrested June 13 and is a legal permanent resident, Corso said.

After weeks, the prosecutors informed Corso of an investigation into a felony-level crime, which Delgado also denied. Corso claimed he has provided affidavits and other statements to prosecutors supporting his client’s lack of involvement in either situation.

“The prosecutor wants my client’s bond reduced, so that he can get out of jail … and right into the waiting mouth of the 287(g) immigration officers,” Corso said.

Speaking generally on cases prior to adjudication, Woodard said her office looks to review cases frequently in which a prohibitive bond may have been set.

“Both Sheriff Couch and my office work to try and minimize the time that people are held pre-adjudication to keep that from being a financial burden to the taxpayers, because incarceration should be used as punishment after adjudication,” she said.

Citing the ongoing lawsuit, Couch declined to comment specifically on the 287(g) program.

“While this has been a successful program for many years, I am unable to make any additional comment regarding the 287(g) program due to the pending litigation,” Couch said in a statement. “I look forward to being able to address this program further once the litigation has been settled.”

Hall County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Deputy Nicole Bailes directed questions about the 287(g) program to ICE public information officer Bryan Cox. He wrote in an email he couldn’t discuss any specifics of the program because of the lawsuit.

A month after filing the habeas corpus petition, Delgado was released Oct. 20.

“Someone, magically, called the sheriff’s office and got the 287(g) hold lifted,” Corso said, adding he was unsure how the hold was lifted.

Carolina Antonini, an Atlanta-based immigration attorney, said she has helped a number of clients who had legal status but have faced such immigration holds.

“It happens sufficiently in my practice that makes me think it happens enough to be concerned about it,” Antonini said.

Woodard claimed no one on the state level could be involved because the hold is handled on a federal level.

“None of the state actors interact with the federal decisions,” Woodard said.

Ceballos, however, has already been deported, Corso said.

“(Ceballos) had just been in jail for so long, I guess three months, four months, he became completely exasperated and depressed,” he said, saying he was unsure of Ceballos’ legal status when charged. “He just couldn’t wait anymore for his day in court even though he pled not guilty and he wanted to have a trial on his charges.”

Corso said the alleged result is a legal “dead zone,” where there is no judicial review for police activity.

“Before any judge ever gets to hear whether the arrest is valid or whether the accusation has any merit, the 287(g) program comes down like the sword of Damocles and you get the express train to deportation,” he said.

Antonini said often her clients will face ICE detention in one of two South Georgia cities, Lumpkin and Ocilla, if they are detained in Georgia. As a result, some of her clients have been unable to return to face charges in a timely manner.

“I’ve had many people who unfortunately were detained and removed from the county, were not able to face the charges and then would come out of the county with an order of arrest,” Antonini said.

In her experience, Woodard said the two issues — preadjudication concerns and deportation concerns — are often handled together in short succession.

“The majority of time, attorneys address both situations simultaneously, both reducing bond and releasing here and dealing with the deportation status in a separate court in the appropriate jurisdiction,” Woodard said.

Part of the issue with legal residents having immigration holds may have to do with what questions are asked during booking procedures, Corso said.

“‘Were you born in this country?’ is not the end-all be-all of whether you are an American citizen or not,” he said, himself born in Heidelberg, Germany, to a father in the military.

In November 2014, the Department of Homeland Security issued a memorandum setting priorities for deportation proceedings. “Priority 1” is set for those suspected of posing a threat to national security and people convicted of committing street gang activity.

“If you get pulled over because one of the two light bulbs on your license plate is out, the president has said that we’re not going to make that person’s deportation a priority, especially if they’re married to a U.S. citizen or have U.S. citizen children,” Corso said.

Lawsuit challenges immigration jail policy

SLIDESHOW: Clermont’s Christmas Parade

Hundreds of holiday revelers turned for the Christmas in Clermont parade on Saturday as nearly 25 cars and floats made their way to the downtown area of Clermont to celebrate the beginning of the Christmas season.

Families were able to visit with Santa, roast marshmallows and enjoy hot chocolate during the event. The tree-lighting ceremony followed the Christmas parade.

SLIDESHOW: Clermont’s Christmas Parade

Lawyer and his father, a retired judge, launch firm together

Like father, like son.

Former Georgia Court of Appeals Chief Judge J.D. Smith has recently gone into practice with his son, Brian R. Smith. Their law firm, The Smith Law Practice, specializes in handling appeals, professional liability matters, business litigation and catastrophic personal injury and wrongful death claims.

Both grew up in Gainesville. Their office is in Atlanta, but J.D. works out of his home in Hall County, where they are currently seeking clients for their new firm.

A father and son litigation team has its advantages, J.D. said.

“It’s been a lot of fun, and I’ve been impressed over and over again with how good of a lawyer my son is,” J.D. said. “I think we communicate well, and it’s been a real joy.”

Added J.D.: “If your son asks you to work with him, it’s an opportunity you just can’t turn down.”

Brian said he is the “primary contact for most of the people who call the firm. (My dad) is able to rely on me for a lot of the legwork, and I rely on him for guidance, because he’s been around so long.”

Both father and son laugh at this.

“Well, there’s no denying it,” J.D. said.

J.D. retired from the Georgia Court of Appeals in 2011 after serving for more than 18 years. He was appointed by then Gov. Zell Miller in 1993.

Before his appellate work, he was Chief Judge of the Superior Courts of the Northeastern Judicial Circuit, which then included Dawson, Hall, Lumpkin and White counties. He was elected to the Superior Court in 1984 and took office on Jan. 1, 1985.

Brian Smith was recently selected as a Georgia Super Lawyers “Rising Star” for 2016. In more than 10 years of civil practice, he has handled a variety of different legal matters on behalf of both plaintiffs and defendants as well as appellants, appellees and lawyers facing disciplinary matters before the State Bar of Georgia and the Georgia Supreme Court.

“We’re just getting started and so far much of the business has been out of the Atlanta area, and we’re hoping to have more business here since it’s home,” J.D. said.

For more information, visit

Lawyer and his father, a retired judge, launch firm together