Cracker Barrel is expected to announce plans in 2011 for a Covington restaurant, and it could be followed by a few other national chains, providing positive signs for a county seeking commercial growth in a depressed economy, as well as more consumer options.
The popular restaurant chain, known for its homestyle food and country gift shops, has reached an agreement with Ewing Southeast Realty to locate at the corner of Georgia. Highway 142 and Lochridge Boulevard, near the Hampton Inn, Morris Ewing Jr., with Ewing Southeast, said on Wednesday.
Ewing said the company still has to give its final approval, finalize plans and meet the city’s zoning requirements. He expects the company to move forward next spring. He said Cracker Barrel chose Covington because the Interstate 20 Exit 93 location is seeing commercial growth, is highly visible and is about midway between
Ewing said his company has had "very preliminary" discussions with Mellow Mushroom regarding a location in the same area.
While the Highway 142 corridor is considered to be Covington’s commercial gateway and is attracting prominent companies, the traditional U.S. Highway 278 commercial corridor is also seeing activity.
Susan Kirk, owner of Scoops ice cream and candy shop on the Square, is trying another American favorite, opening a gourmet hot dog restaurant on U.S. Highway 278 in the same plaza as Advance Auto Parts and Bangkok Grill. Her building is one of the few new commercial construction projects being pursued by entrepreneurs, Sunbelt Builders President Steve Kapp said on Wednesday.
"Municipalities or federal government projects that have funding or private owners or entities that have cash regularly available, that’s really about it," Kapp said. However, he noted that business was up this fall compared with 2009.
Also, McDonald’s, has had preliminary meetings with the city of Covington to open up another location, said Covington Senior Planner Scott Gaither. However, he said they were "just testing the waters" at this point.
Luigi’s Pizza closes
Several residents were surprised to discover that Luigi’s Pizza closed a few weeks ago. The pizzeria was located in The Exchange, the brick masonry shopping center on U.S. 278 at its intersection with West Street.
Shopping center owner Sam Burney Hay III said the business had actually been doing well. He said the location has received quite a bit of interest, aided by the fact The Exchange is considered one of the most upscale centers because of its masonry exterior.
Pizza Plus, the pizza buffet located at the intersection of Georgia highways 81 and 162, also closed several weeks ago. The property is owned by the Oakes family, which also owns two restaurants in Conyers. No one could be reached for comment on the closing.
While Luigi’s closed, Hay added tenants this year, including Game Star and a gold-buying business.
The two stores actually share what used to be a single store space. Game Star was started by a couple of entrepreneurs seeking to fill a niche, while Southeast Gold Buyers is expanding into untapped markets.
"Evidently the gold-buying business is fairly successful with the price of gold being at record highs, as well as the economy being somewhat stagnant. People are divesting jewelry, gold, silver, precious metals and this company has been expanding in the metro area," Hay said, noting that niche retail stores seem to be finding success in the economy.
Despite the downturn, he said he remains bullish on Covington’s long-term viability as a commercial city.
Ewing said Ewing Southeast Realty is also in negotiations with Kauffman Tire, which could move in next to the Wendy’s on U.S. 278.
A look through Covington and Newton County’s recent business licenses show that many residents are starting home business, including both office and lawn maintenance and home repair businesses. Car repair shops and home operations also continue to be popular.
Gaither, Covington’s senior planner, said he’s seen a trend of people trying to sell anything they can acquire cheaply. During the summer, there was a rash of fruit and vegetable stands popping up and recently the city’s been getting more inquiries about temporary commercial permits, such as those needed for street vendors, he said.