Data Show Jobs, Economy Top Concerns For People In Southeastern Oklahoma
Kay Wallace holds up a denim Gucci jumpsuit as she sorts through a pile of clothes behind the counter of her shop in downtown Wewoka.
“Of course it’s not my size —it’s an extra large,” she said. “This is one of my favorites.”
Wallace’s store, My Second Closet, sells new and gently used high-end clothing and accessories. She has owned the business, which she says caters to everyone “from fashionistas to cowboys,” since 2012.
My Second Closet is open three days a week because Wallace also works at a local college, but she says the shop fills a need in southeastern Oklahoma’s Seminole County.
“My mother was a fashion person, and when she wanted something in a hurry, it might have been pretty difficult for her to just run to Oklahoma City or run to Tulsa to get something that she really wanted to buy,” Wallace said. “And I saw a need in that for myself as well. I wanted to go look at some Michael Kors purses and couldn’t.”
My Second Closet is one of a small group of local retailers downtown. Many of the buildings on this part of Wewoka Avenue are run-down or boarded up.
“I’m still holding on,” said Cora Warrior-Hill, who opened her hair extensions and accessories business, Hair and Jewels, down the street from My Second Closet in December.
Warrior-Hill said local businesses like hers and Wallace’s are trying to bring in products and services that normally require time-consuming trips to nearby cities like Shawnee.
“You have to get everything that you need at that time,” she said. “You have to make sure you get all the items you need or you have to go all the way back up there.”
Warrior-Hill and Wallace have both heard a lot of local residents say they are looking for jobs or wish they could find jobs closer to Wewoka.
‘Wewoka was booming’
Data from a survey commissioned by stations for the Oklahoma Engaged project suggest many residents throughout the region have similar concerns.
Sixty-six percent of respondents in southeastern Oklahoma listed jobs and the economy as their top concerns when it comes to political issues that affect their families, compared to just over 50 percent in the counties surrounding the Oklahoma City metro.
“It was a time when I was younger that Wewoka was booming,” Wallace said. “It was stores lined up. I remember going to the clothing stores.”
Wallace said the city’s economy is slowly making progress by developing more housing in the downtown area designed to attract businesses and residents.
Political candidates running to represent Wewoka in state government are also thinking about business and jobs.
Democrat Steve Barnes is challenging Republican incumbent Zack Taylor for the District 28 seat in Oklahoma’s House of Representatives, which covers all of Seminole County and part of Pottawatomie County.
Barnes, an attorney from Wewoka, lost to Taylor, an oil and gas businessman who lives in Seminole, by 56 votes in a 2017 special election for the same seat.
Barnes said he and his opponent have similar views on the economic needs of the district.
“We both realize that in order for these small towns to survive, we’re going to have to encourage more businesses to come in,” he said.
Taylor did not respond to multiple interview requests.
In a 2017 interview with the conservative-leaning McCarville Report, he said, “I want to take my private sector experience to the state capitol, where I can help create pro-business policies and add more jobs to our economy.”
While both candidates oppose some special interest tax breaks and support more funding for some government programs, Barnes said lawmakers should stop cutting state agency budgets to free up revenue.
“I think it’s time to look at ways that we can generate revenue and not do it on the backs of people that can least afford it,” he said.
Barnes said local officials in Wewoka are working with a private railway company to reopen a line through the city as a way of attracting business.
“[I] would love to see Wewoka kind of like a Hamptons-type thing,” said My Second Closet owner Wallace, referring to the seaside community in New York that has streets lined with quaint shops.
Wallace said she imagines a future where downtown is bustling with shoppers and businesses.
“Things are down the street and people are down the street — I love that,” she said. “And I think we can do that again.”