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RestaurantsPosted Tuesday, March 20, 2012, at 1:03 PM
On our Facebook page, the news story about a new motel planned for North Main Street drew an immediate response along the lines of "we don't need a new motel, we need a new restaurant."
Actually, if you want a new restaurant to open up, the arrival of a new motel might be seen as good news. If the people who come for events at Calsonic Arena stay in Tullahoma or Murfreesboro, they'll eat some of their meals in Tullahoma or Murfreesboro and support the restaurant market in Tullahoma or Murfreesboro. If they stay in Shelbyville, on the other hand, they'll dine in Shelbyville. Increasing the number of motel rooms here is a factor (although probably a small one) in increasing the chances of new restaurants opening here. In any case, it doesn't hurt -- it's not an either-or situation.
Whether any given restaurant locates in Shelbyville is mainly up to the owners of those chains and/or people with enough money to open a franchise.
The biggest factor in what kind of restaurants open and close is consumer demand. There are other factors, sure; land availability, zoning, traffic and what have you. But (with the exception of a 40-year-old incident when the city fathers supposedly chased a shopping mall away to Tullahoma) city government, which depends heavily on sales tax revenue, is usually cooperative when there's the prospect of a new retailer. This is especially true if the site is already zoned for commercial use, leaving little chance of the neighbors complaining. In most cases, the doors are open; it's simply a matter of whether those retailers think it's worth their while to walk through.
By the same token, the city can't be too active in recruiting retail businesses the way it recruits industry. After all, any new retailer competes with existing retailers, who would be understandably upset to see their tax dollars being used to bring in competition.
When and if the management of a particular restaurant chain thinks it can make money in Shelbyville, and there's some franchise owner willing to take the risk, you'll probably see bulldozers in action. You won't see them until those factors are in place. Saying "we don't need another motel, we need a new restaurant" (or saying "we already have too many of *this* kind of restaurant, we need *that* kind of restaurant," another common complaint) misses the point entirely.
If there are several of a given type of restaurant in town, and all of them are making money, it's because there are apparently people in town willing to pay money for that type of food. That's supply and demand; people have the right to start a business, and customers have the right to choose from the available options.
A previous mayor once called the corporate offices of her favorite restaurant chain (it's one of mine, too) to try to persuade them to open in Shelbyville. It didn't work.
Every nationwide restaurant chain, and any other large retail chain, has its own business plan -- its own plan for how much it should cost to run a restaurant, how much business that restaurant needs to do to make a profit, and how large a nearby population (and/or volume of traffic, such as for a location near an Interstate exit) is necessary to make that level of business happen. The plans are different for every chain. They may take into account demographics like age and income levels as well.
Restaurants will show up in a community when they think they can make a profit according to their own individual business plan, when there's a good location available at a reasonable price, and (assuming that the restaurant is a franchise) when there's a franchise owner willing to take the risk. You can complain all you want, but they won't show up until a particular restaurant chain can check off all three of those boxes.
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John I. Carney is city editor of the Times-Gazette.