Scuttlebiz: New ULTA, Chicken Salad Chick stores heading to Evans

What kind of local business can we look forward to in 2018?

 

Well, let’s start at the ground-level (i.e., stuff that may interest you) and finish off with a big-picture view (i.e., stuff that should interest everyone).

If you’re seeking new places to shop and eat, and you live in or near Columbia County, you’ll enjoy hearing Evans will soon get an ULTA Beauty store and a Chicken Salad Chick restaurant.

Based on published construction documents, the ULTA will go into a 10,000-square-foot space at Mullins Crossing previously occupied by rue21, which closed the store along with half its brick-and-mortar locations to focus on internet retailing.

ULTA’s construction is a simple retrofit, so I’m guessing the store next door to the Ross Dress for Less will be open before spring. A guess is all I have since the suburban Chicago-based company – America’s largest beauty retailer – wouldn’t return repeated calls during the past two weeks.

The chicks at Chicken Salad Chick, however, were happy to tell me the chain’s second Augusta-area restaurant will open Jan. 23 at 4429 Washington Road, which is the site of the once-revered Evans Diner next to the Walmart-anchored Centre at Evans shopping center.

The site is being developed by Origin Development Group, which is the same company that operates the Chicken Salad Chick at 2817 Washington Road in Augusta. The new eatery will seat 60 and offer the company’s first drive-thru window.

And lastly, the Embers Grille co-located with the Circle K on Baston Road and River Watch Parkway is being converted into an A Town Wings, an Atlanta-based wing and sandwich shop that rapidly appears to be the go-to franchise for quickly filling vacant quick-serve restaurant space. A couple years ago there were none in the metro area; when Baston Road opens it will be the market’s sixth.

The Embers Grille is reopening on Robinson Avenue in Grovetown next year.

 

WE’LL BE THERE…SOMEDAY: I’m enthusiastic when new companies acquire land or file building permits in the metro Augusta area. On the flip side, I don’t put a lot of stock in companies that announce plans to expand in the Augusta area. That’s essentially the same as me saying I have “plans” to win the Powerball jackpot.

The companies that make such announcements usually do so to dip their toes into the pool to determine if there is interest from well-heeled locals seeking a franchise opportunity.

However, the latest company to announce plans in Augusta, Taco Johns, could be the real deal. The Wyoming-based quick-serve Mexican chain said it has aligned with suburban Nashville, Tenn.-based financier American Development Partners to bring 100 eateries to Georgia and the Carolinas through an existing Taco Johns franchisee, Superior Taco.

In addition to Augusta, “targeted cities” include Savannah, Ga., Wilmington, N.C., and the South Carolina markets of Columbia, Charleston, Myrtle Beach, and Greenville-Spartanburg.

American Development Partners’ client portfolio includes franchisees for brands ranging from Church’s and Captain D’s to Discount Tire and Hampton Inn. Taco Johns is privately held and has nearly 400 outlets in 23 states.

Superior Taco’s Ivan Lenoir already operates several World of Beer franchises.

“Taco John’s has an incredible following and history of success – we continue to be impressed by the brand,” Caleb McMillen, American Development Partners’ chief operating officer said in a news release. “We can’t wait to introduce these markets to the iconic, quality food of Taco John’s. We have aggressive development plans for the next 24 to 36 months.”

 

WHERE’S THE BEEF? HERE, POSSIBLY: You may recall me telling you earlier this year about the parent company of the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s and The Brass Tap saying it planned to add 10 locations in Georgia during the next five years.

I bring it up again because the spokeswoman for the company, Tampa, Fla.-based FSC Franchise Co.,told me it was “specifically looking into Augusta” but also because the aforementioned American Development Partners also has experience investing in the Irish-themed sports bar.

 

NEED A MOVE-IN READY RESTAURANT?: The former PDQ restaurant at 2999 Washington Road is back on the market after closing earlier this month, a mere 21 months in business at the intersection of Augusta’s two most heavily traveled thoroughfares: Interstate 20 and Washington Road.

The Tampa-based fast-casual chicken restaurant, whose name stood for “People Dedicated to Quality,” still operates its Evans-area location at 4311 Washington Road.

“Our Augusta team has become deeply connected to the community and we will miss seeing our loyal guests every day, but hope they will continue to visit us at our location in Evans,” company co-founder and CEO Nick Reader said in prepared remarks. “As we continue to build our brand, we are extremely focused on finding the best sites to ensure our continued success.”

Hopefully the company will try again somewhere in metro Augusta in 2018.

 

SPEAKING OF 2018: Many people don’t need New Year’s Eve as an excuse to hoist a glass of sparkling wine. Wine consumption, in general, increased nationwide to nearly 3 gallons per person in 2016, compared to 2.3 gallons per capita in 2006. That’s a 25 percent increase over a decade and a 58 percent increase from 20 years ago, according to the Wine Institute.

I bring this up because a sizable number of wine drinkers also appear to be frequent fliers; corkscrews appear to represent a disproportionate amount of the roughly 75 pounds of prohibited carry-on items collected by security at Augusta Regional Airport during the past two months alone.

It’s not the squiggly part that’s the problem – it’s the foil-cutting blade on the other side. No blades are allowed in carry-on bags.

“Wait a minute,” you might be saying to yourself. “I thought knives less than 2½ inches were OK?”

They were.

For about three months.

In 2013.

Then airline labor unions and a handful of skeptical lawmakers successfully scuttled the Transportation Security Administration policy, making corkscrews, Swiss army knives and countless other blades with non-locking features once again streng verboten. But even today, many people think the short-lived exception is still in place. That’s because the rule’s reinstatement received much less media attention than uproar over the rule’s relaxation.

“That (three-month) period, in a lot of people’s minds, has trumped 15 years of no knives,” TSA Regional Spokesman Mark Howell said, adding that corkscrews, multitools and pocket knives are the most common non-liquid prohibited items security personnel encounter.

Bottom line: If the corkscrew has a blade, put it in your checked baggage. And if you forget, you can always snap off the blade in the airport restroom using the stainless steel stall door as a fulcrum.

Or so I’ve heard.

 

CARPE VINUM?: TSA officers don’t get to keep all those corkscrews, knives, pepper spray cans, and brass knuckle belt buckles that end up surrendered at the checkpoint.

Pocket knives and edged/pointy self-defense weapons get shipped to Alabama and eventually make their way to state government auction sites. There, they get sold by the buckets, often to pawn shops, flea market vendors and other low-level retailers who, presumably, put them back into the hands of a new consumers who just might bring them once again to the airport.

“There could be a perpetual circle of pocket knives out there,” Howell said. “It might be fun if somebody could put a chip on one and follow it.”

Liquids, aerosols and gels – everything from bottles of fine Cabernet Sauvignon to cans of Aqua Net – are not resold. Those items go to a different vendor for environmentally appropriate disposal.

Even unopened toiletries and food items are summarily destroyed, Howell said.

“People sometimes ask if we can donate them to homeless shelters,” he said. “But we just can’t do it for liability reasons.”

 

IT’S MY HOUSE (SORT OF): More U.S. households are renting now than at any point in the past 50 years, according to Census figures. Renting is particularly popular in the metro Augusta market, according to a recent analysis of real estate transactions by Irvine, Calif.-based ATTOM Data Solutions, the largest aggregator of multi-source property data.

Its “pre-mover” report for the third quarter, which is based on loan applications and other indicators of upcoming sales, show that all-cash sales – which are generally investor-purchased homes – accounted for 32 percent of all for single family home and condo transactions. Nationally, the percentage for the quarter was 27.

ATTOM Senior Vice President Daren Blomquist said in a phone interview that about 33 percent of all single-family homes and condos in metro Augusta are non-owner occupied, ranking it No. 12 on the list of 119 markets with more than 100,000 homes.

The high percentage of renters, coupled with smaller inventories of new homes, could explain Augusta’s relatively stable real estate market.

“In markets where we see less churn there is a higher percentage of renters,” he said. “Investors tend to hold onto properties.”

The full ATTOM report is available at attomdata.com/news/home-prices-and-sales/q3-2017-pre-mover-index/.

Apartment rents, by the way, have increased 3.2 percent from last year, according to ApartmentList.com, which says Augusta’s median two-bedroom rent is now $760. That’s still below the national average of $1,160.

 

BORN TO WEAR PINK AND GREEN: Preppy clothing company vinyard vines, a brand so cool it doesn’t need capitalization, has partnered with local golf car maker Club Car on a limited-edition line of four-passenger vehicles bearing the niche retailer’s familiar smiling whale logo.

The vehicles, which use Club Car’s rugged-looking Onward line of lifted golf cars, will have the pink whale logo stitched into the seats and be emblazoned with the Martha’s Vineyard-esque brand’s “signature patchwork print.”

The Stamford, Conn.-based retailer, founded by brothers Shep and Ian Murray in 1998, said in a news release that the line of Patchwork Onward cars was “inspired by their passion for golf and created with a nod to the brand’s East Coast roots.”

“Club Car is a classic brand and we have always been a fan of their expression of freedom and fun,” Shep said in the release. “We’re thrilled to be working with a company that aligns with so many of our core values and offer our customers a new kind of ‘Every day should feel this good’ moment.’ ”

Bro Ian said the collaboration “represents our commitment to living the good life.”

The price of good life (I mean, if you have to ask…) is $12,399 for the electric model to $12,999 for the gas model. The consumer offering from Club Car is through the vineyard vines catalog, through clubcar.com and select Club Car dealers.

Ross Atherton, Club Car’s consumer vehicle leader, said in the joint announcement that vineyard vines “brings a fun twist to Club Car and the Onward brand,” which is designed for use both on and off golf courses.

“Like vineyard vines, Onward is a brand that resonates with fun, on-the-go types and outdoor enthusiasts and families so we think it’s a perfect match,” he said.

Will a Patchwork Onward model be among the 190-plus Club Cars out on the streets during Masters Week 2018? Maybe. And perhaps the 90-store vineyard vines chain will someday open one of its upscale stores around here?

Metro Augusta likes the “good life,” too.

 

MEA CULPA: I had a feeling I would neglect to mention someone in last week’s column entry highlighting prominent businesspeople who passed away during 2017. Turns out, I neglected two.

One of those business titans, William “Bill” Stevens Jr., left us just a few weeks ago. The 92-year-old Stevens ran his father’s Stevens Appliance Truck Co. and helped bring Club Car to Augusta. The third-generation family business still manufactures high-quality hand trucks.

That oversight was pointed out by Davenport “Dee” Bruker, an all-around good guy who happens to be my insurance agent. Or should I say former insurance agent – he’s retiring this year from the Sanford Bruker & Banks firm founded by his grandfather in the 1920s. Enjoy retirement, Dee.

The second inadvertent omission was pointed out by Penny Ballas, who lost her husband Chuck Ballas Sr., a name you might recognize as the former proprietor of Luigi’s. Penny helped him run the Italian-Greek eatery – downtown Augusta’s oldest continuously operating restaurant – from 1954 until their retirement in 1989. That was when the business passed to their son Chuck Jr.

My sincerest apologies; the exclusions certainly were not intentional.

Medical research indicates the brain starts to structurally deteriorate as early as age 30. Other studies suggest cognitive decline can begin in one’s 40s, when the myelin sheath – Rust-Oleum for neurons, if you will – slowly starts to break down. I am 45.

That’s my fancy way of saying, “I forgot.”

 

AND NOW FOR THE BIG PICTURE: I won’t bore you with a list of personal New Year’s resolutions.

Instead, I’ll bore you with my “wish list” for 2018:

• I hope we don’t lose any more grocery stores. We lost a few this past year, but with eurogrocers Lidl and Aldi in the midst of an aggressive expansion across the region and a Sprouts Farmers Market set to open soon on Walton Way Extension, I fear more are going to go away. My guess is it will be the lower-volume regionals such as the Food Lions and the BI-LOs.

• I hope Augusta-Richmond County leaders get serious about addressing parking issues in downtown Augusta, where new hotels, apartment buildings, a cyber innovation center and downtown attractions – namely the Miller Theater – will soon be coming online.

• I hope Georgia Power and Plant Vogtle’s co-owners – along with its new contractor, Bechtel – can work out all the bugs that have kept units 3 and 4 behind schedule and over budget for the past several years under previous construction management regimes. Jobs and emission-free electricity, good. Unemployment and pollution, bad.

• I hope to see greater alignment and coordination between Augusta’s various business-focused groups, including the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce, the Augusta Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Development Authority, the Development Authority of Richmond County, the Greater Augusta Arts Council, the Augusta Canal Authority, Augusta Tomorrow and the four or five other organizations that I probably forgot to mention (what a drag it is getting old).

• I hope somebody develops a sensible plan for redeveloping Regency Mall. I say “somebody” because it doesn’t appear the absentee property owners or the city’s current slate of leaders are capable.

• And last but not least, I hope the 2018 economy is as good or better than 2017. Job growth, a local economy’s best economic indicator, was a robust 6,000 jobs during the past year, according to the Georgia Department of Labor. The state also reported metro Augusta’s employment in November hit an all-time high of 244,000 and its unemployment rate of 4.5 percent is a full half-percent below last year’s November rate. Not too shabby.

See you next year.

 

Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3352 or damon.cline@augustachronicle.com.

 

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