MILLEDGEVILLE — In recent months, North Columbia Street business openings by Petsense, LongHorn Steakhouse, Firehouse Subs, Hibachi Express and Hillcrest Urgent Care signify positive Milledgeville momentum.
City manager Barry Jarrett also confirmed Wednesday Kroger’s old storefront is vacant no longer. Hobby Lobby will fill the void left in Fall 2011.
“We were informed that Hobby Lobby has finally gotten their lease straight, and they are locating at the old Kroger storefront,” Jarrett said. “They are planning for an aggressive September opening.”
An estimated 20 to 30 jobs are a much-needed byproduct.
With this department store news, Jarrett hopes the traffic returns to all merchants.
“That area was hit very bad. Kroger itself brought a certain amount of traffic,” the city manager said. “Those merchants were really disappointed when Kroger moved out. Hopefully, it’s going to start bringing that traffic back there.”
Remaining shopping center operators like 1st Franklin Financial manager Christine Farrelly said morale dipped for the smaller businesses once Kroger moved north.
“The parking lot is completely dead. It’s an eyesore to see an empty building,” she said. “Without a main focus to draw your attention to this shopping center, you don’t really know what smaller businesses are within it.”
According to Hobby Lobby’s website, stores carry more than 60,000 products in 13 departments such as crafts, frames, fabric, jewelry, arts and hobbies. Hobby Lobby’s super selection fulfills crafts, home décor and gift ideas.
Farrelly is pumped for the incoming business.
“The best part about Hobby Lobby coming here is that we will actually have a craft store. We have to drive to Warner Robins to find the closest Hobby Lobby and even Michaels is in Macon. It’s going to be a great opportunity for us to have convenience, where we don’t have to go out of town,” Farrelly said.
Jarrett credited the college population’s appeal to the growing Columbia Street business boom. He understands the city must work harder focusing attention around the highway.
“I’m quite conscious of the fact that the City of Milledgeville’ retail establishments are outside the main streets of the city,” Jarrett said.
The city manager also cites an aggressive developer’s land purchase on the corner of Lakeside Drive and North Columbia, which formally served as a motel, as means for a brighter future.
“He purchased that entire strip going north and is trying to develop the property. We hope as he does to see something go in that area. It’s important we get that corridor back in better shape,” Jarrett said.
Main Street Director Carlee Schulte said the economic movement and increasing downtown activities finally generate excitement after the past lull.
“The past few years it’s been kind of a sob story for Milledgeville,” Schulte said. “For the city, we are excited to show that there is growth and things are looking up.”
Jarrett said the city would continue picking up all promotional leads convincing interested parties toward Milledgeville locations.
The Hobby Lobby is a big hit for the community in the perfect location. Farrelly said ancillary job benefits couldn’t come at a better time.
“I think it’s going to be great for Milledgeville period. It’s something this community needs,” the 1st Franklin Financial manager said. “The parking lot will be full again.”
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