You know the adage in real estate that location is everything, and you’ve no doubt seen spots where one failed restaurant is followed by the opening of another which also fails and then another. It might be a different kind of retailer but a similar pattern. Wrong location is the usual explanation, followed by the question of why anyone is foolish enough to repeat the disaster. Lightning may not strike the same place twice (though certain prominent heights would seem an obvious exception), but business traffic follows a different set of rules. Even one side of a busy thoroughfare might flourish while the same offering on the opposite side withers.
Now for the operation in practice.
A side street near us in our end of town has a charming carpenter-gothic style store we’ve watched undergo a similar sequence.
Back in the day before big supermarkets took over, such mom-and-pop groceries could do a lively small-scale business for a neighborhood trade. Send the kids off to pick up some milk, eggs, and maybe a head of cabbage or bag of flour. By the time we came along, this site was either struggling or posting a For Sale Or Lease sign, one owner after another. Just having bread, beer, and candy plus lottery tickets hardly made for a going enterprise, no matter how charming the setting. We wished them well, all the same, and actually lamented a bit when they went under. Something was obviously missing in the business mix.
And then, maybe five years ago, a new owner took over. We admired his low-cost, aggressive hustle – things like parking a pickup on a busy Central Avenue two blocks away and putting a big sign in its bed to alert passing traffic to his deli if they made a quick turn. It got our attention but not our business, we just weren’t ordering much food out and when we did, it was usually from a great Thai restaurant three more blocks away, a Lebanese takeout next to it, or a nearby pizza house. As for the milk-bread-beer-lottery tix, a chain convenience store sat next to the Dunkin’ Donuts on the big artery, though it too kept changing hands to a 7-Eleven at the moment.
Fast forward, it’s a Saturday afternoon my wife and I are both feeling too whatever to cook, we don’t want to spend much – and pizza is getting pricey – she suggests subs, I say fine but want something more satisfying than Subway.
That’s when she suggests Katz’s, where she had popped in a week earlier to grab a six-pack and was amazed by how great the place smelled. Good sign, trusting your nose. So we look up the menu online, see lots of tempting choices, and phone in an order. I trot off all of three blocks and am nibbling on amazing fries even before I get home. In short, we’re sold.
We can see why the place has taken hold and developed a loyal following. Sometimes we’re slow, OK?
It’s not a franchise chain, definite plus. The food is tasty, very, another plus. Some of the menu pays tribute to earlier occupants of the store, once the Busy Hill Market, local awareness. Breakfast is available all day, smart option, especially considering a lot of college students live in the neighborhood – well, they also likely go for the aforesaid beer cave. The prices are also affordable and the portions, generous.
Two sub orders later, we go for the pizza, and it more than lives up to our expectations. So we now have a new go-to pizza joint, unless we really want to splurge and go for Festa, another story.
Turns out the owner’s from Jersey, so he brings some deli savvy, and he has a great manager from all I see, and a skilled crew. None of these guarantee beating the odds, but we are impressed and definitely like the way it’s changed the neighborhood.
Remember, much of my blog, according to one follower, is about celebrating small things where we live. This is one of them. Or, as others have said, God is in the details. The glorious details.
Well, Nicholson Baker could write a novel about the three-block walk from my doorstep to the deli and back. The peach trees in blossom, the small city park and playground, kids on the street, the corner house that used to have its own miniature Stonehenge, four or five renters back, before they returned to South Carolina. (Well, that one was also starting to walk around carrying heat, so yes, we are veering in the direction of a novel.)
At the moment I’m more interested in other things that might be falling in Katz’s favor.
The small park and playground underwent a significant redesign a few years back, for one thing, and then the renovation of the largely vacant Woodbury mill into working-class housing brought new families into the neighborhood, followed by the new Bradley Commons units. More population nearby means more potential walk-in business, right?
All of this returns me to the reality that one of the joys of living in town, in traditional neighborhoods rather than suburbs, is being able to walk places rather than having to hop in a car every time you need something or want to escape.
Remember, we’re about a mile from the downtown, in one direction, and maybe a half-mile in the other direction to the hospital, my physician, and my dentist, all just beyond the entrance to Garrison Hill park and its observation tower. Another half-mile brings you to three supermarkets and two pharmacies, plus an assortment of small stores and eateries in strip-mall settings.
Closer in is our bank (three blocks), a pharmacy (five blocks), the aforesaid neighborhood park and playground (three blocks), and now the deli.
It’s all what we like to call civilized, even in an era of Covid.