The arrival of Chick-fil-A in the Queen Street restaurant family comes at an excellent time for Southington. A huge empty building or lot does nothing for the tax base or the economy.
Remember when ShopRite’s arrival sparked the rebirth of the plaza? Then came Moe’s, Buffalo Wild Wings, Smashburger, Noodles ... and the picture continues to be painted. There are now 67 eateries on Queen Street.
Queen Street was once the scourge of local citizens when it developed from a sleepy two-lane Route 10 from Oak Hill Cemetery to the Plainville line into a massive cornucopia of restaurants, gas stations, big and small retail outlets, parking lots and neon lights.
Downtown was finished, pundits claimed. Traffic became too heavy for the narrow road and small retail plazas only added frustration for motorists. Others predicted an early death for the street named after an Indian maiden.
But today, the 2.5-mile stretch is the town’s economic golden goose. And, downtown is stronger than it’s been in 25 years.
Retail giants employ marketing search teams that seek out prime locations with easy access from major highways, are close to downtown centers and have good roads. Southington has it all.
Road improvements by the state Department of Transportation enabled Queen Street to avoid being a vacated strip of empty restaurants and stores. Bolstered by out-of-town shoppers, the major chains - or “leader stores” - have capitalized on the region’s best-known retail haven.
Queen Street had been wounded over the years by the departure of Kmart, Ames, Caldor, Foodmart and the famed TGIF restaurant. Yet, it never suffered a fatal shot.
Wal-Mart continues to be the No. 1 leader store, even with competitive Target a few miles away.
Wal-Mart may chase some competitors away, but there’s something to be admired when other businesses want to open in the vicinity of the retail giant. For example, there are Aldi and Ocean State Job Lot.
Price Chopper tested the former Shaw’s and jabbed at Super Stop & Shop. But the strong always survive. Now ShopRite is entrenched and is stronger than ever.
Many assumed Chili’s was too popular to have competitive eateries within a half-mile, but Outback Steak House, Wood-n-Tap and Bertucci’s seem to be doing OK. The additions of Indian, Mexican and Japanese restaurants provide a wide choice.
The recent facelifts of the Holiday Inn Express and the new Hospital of Central Connecticut proved once again that Queen Street is tantalizing. Even Bob’s Furniture found us. The nearby Pilgrim Furniture City is doing just fine.
A couple of hundred yards west is Connecticut Appliance, and the new Connecticut Lighting outlet makes Graham Place more than a street sign.
Overall, the town’s tax base flutters when Queen Street looks like it’s fading away and then rebounds.
Southington’s enterprise zone, accompanied by natural incentives, continues to attract a replacement for the departures. We’re actually running out of new space.
The overall economic stability of the town’s business community is difficult to judge. The advantages of the retail Queen Street have helped the town derive taxes from the once all-manufacturing Queen Street.
So the next time you see an empty storefront on Queen Street or become disappointed when your favorite restaurant chain closes, don’t fret. Something will take its place.
It’s becoming a fact that Bristol and New Britain diners love Southington - or, most likely, our restaurants.
Yet Southington is fortunate to have retained its quaint downtown business district. Downtown is a sentimental favorite. It is a beloved area, slower in pace and worthy of smaller business investments. Yet, remove the restaurants and bars downtown and it’s the 1960s again.
Queen Street is appreciated, but hardly beloved.
Queen Street is Southington’s enterprising economic oasis. Without it, we’d all be paying more taxes.