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Taylor’s Table Talk: Local dining, infrastructure pressured by chain expansion

In March, RPG Management began construction on a retaining wall and joint Chipotle-Starbucks location at 960 E. State St., according to the company’s Facebook page. In a previous article published by The Post, Mayor Steve Patterson said the additions to East State Street’s “corporate chain corridor” may not affect Friendly Paws or Kindred Market, but that is unsurprising; Friendly Paws is a pet supplies and grooming business, and Kindred Market is a grocery store and café. Local restaurants and coffee may fare badly from the presence of new popular competitors.

There are plenty of positives to introducing Chipotle and Starbucks to East State Street. The most compelling reason for the additions is diverting customers from their counterparts on Court Street. The lunchtime rush – shared between students and locals during the academic school year – creates congestion at those locations. 

However, as the epicenter of Athens’ businesses, East State Street experiences similar congestion during the day. So, adding those locations may shift the burden to a different area of Athens. The city has not addressed the congestion East State Street experiences. The city has found solutions for other areas, such as constructing roundabouts on Richland and Stimson avenues. Both corporate and local businesses may not flourish without addressing these underlying infrastructural issues.

Aside from infrastructure, new competitors may affect local dining and coffee on East State Street, especially businesses with similar items on their menus. Lulu’s Casa El Camino, at 1017 E. State St., is a locally owned Mexican restaurant near the upcoming Chipotle location. 

At the opposite end of the street is Sol Island Bar and Grill, a Cuban restaurant at 700 E. State St. Regarding coffee, Court Street Coffee opened its new location at 688 E. State St. earlier this year. The convenience of Chipotle and Starbucks on East State Street may boost Athens’ economy but to the detriment of local business owners’ livelihoods.

Furthermore, a Starbucks location already exists on East State Street, just in an inconvenient location: Kroger. Parking is limited at that grocery store, making Starbucks difficult to access. Again, this problem represents a greater infrastructural issue on East State Street that increased traffic will exacerbate.

Large chain restaurants, like Chipotle and Starbucks, tend to be more extractive to a community than local businesses, which more often contribute to their communities. Lulu’s Casa El Camino and the Athens Chipotle location participated in the Alexander Inclusive Playground Project, which aimed to fund and construct a more inclusive playground at Alexander schools. 

However, the corporate Chipotle has been involved in foodborne illness and child labor allegations, which it has settled out of court. Sol Island Bar and Grill hosts weekly community events like live music every Friday and drag brunches on Sundays. Starbucks has not participated in or hosted a similar community-based program in Athens. Court Street Coffee frequently interacts with and promotes other local businesses on its Facebook page.

Finally, East State Street has underutilized space, such as the Market on State mall, which is slowly approaching vacancy except for a few businesses. Perhaps, instead of carving out the hillside and building a retaining wall – which will reportedly cost $600,000 alone – the city and construction companies could revitalize vacant locations in a cost-efficient and environmentally friendly way. In doing so, the city may avoid exacerbating congested roadways. 

Taylor Orcutt is a junior studying journalism. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk more about it? Let Taylor know by tweeting her @TaylorOrcutt.

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