Try giving local stores, restaurants a try before shopping out-of-town

Published 10:32 am Wednesday, August 8, 2018

I hear a lot from citizens who ask me to bring in a particular retailer or restaurant. Right after they ask comes this comment, “If I want to shop/eat at that type of establishment I have to go to Johnson City or Bristol!” Let me tell you, I understand! There are times that I find myself going to Johnson City to eat or shop versus a local business. Sometimes it’s due to convenience (I’m already over there for another reason) while other times it’s intentional (I really want a big steak from Texas Roadhouse).
The concerning part is that new retailers and restaurants look at and gather information about how much money is spent in a community before they locate there. For example, if we were recruiting a Ruby Tuesday’s or Cheddar’s and we met all of their site requirements (population size, household income, available property, average age, traffic counts, etc), they would ask some of the existing businesses like Applebee’s, Fatz, and Beef O’Brady’s how business was and how, say, the Elizabethton Applebee’s compared to the other Applebee’s stores in Northeast Tennessee (did they have more sales than most, how many customers did they have on average, what was the most popular food item, etc). If Applebee’s here responded saying they are below the average for sales compared to the rest of Northeast Tennessee and Fatz says the same thing, that would cause Ruby Tuesday’s or Cheddar’s to seriously reconsider whether they want to location here in Elizabethton.
This story became a reality when a little over a year ago when we were trying to recruit an off-price department store. They were interested in coming into Elizabethton and felt that it would be a good market for this particular brand. Upon my final contact with the real estate manager, she had some concerns regarding information she had received from Peebles and Burkes regarding their sales versus what they anticipated them to be. With the closing of the Rue21 in Elizabethton and with the company having a sister brand located in Johnson City, they ultimately decided not to locate in Elizabethton at this time. Hopefully they will give us another look in a year!
This is one known example. I know that Peebles and Burkes may not have everything we all want, but all I ask is that you give local businesses a first shot. After all, you likely have to drive near or right past downtown or the West Elk commercial area to get to Johnson City! The same goes for our local restaurants. It’s fine to go to Johnson City or Bristol to celebrate an anniversary or maybe a birthday, but if you’re just short on time one Friday evening try to go to Fatz, Jiggy Rays, or Primo’s rather than Smokey Bones, Main Street Pizza, or Olive Garden in Johnson City. The more we spend in Elizabethton, the more we help Elizabethton grow. Let’s talk about it!
(Jon Hartman is Director of Planning & Economic Development for the City of Elizabethton. He can be contacted by phone at 542-1503 or by email at )

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