April 30, 2013 9:37:44 AM
Carmen K. Sisson - [email protected]
Local residents and ardent road-trippers will soon have another option on the menu: Cracker Barrel Old Country Store and Restaurant, a mainstay of the national food chain, is expected to locate in Columbus early next year.
Company representatives met with city officials earlier in the month to determine what roadblocks they might face as they begin construction at their selected site, located on 18th Avenue North, adjacent to Smith Landscaping and Greenhouse.
The meeting was attended by city planner Christina Berry, building department director Kenny Wiegel, city engineer Kevin Stafford and city fire marshal Todd Weathers, two local officials -- speaking on condition of anonymity -- confirmed Monday.
"(Their representative) said, 'You don't need to keep it hush-hush; we're coming, it's just a matter of when,'" one official said. "He said it was full-steam ahead. They already had the site -- the property they're interested in -- already talked to the people they're going to get the property from. Their engineering team has already laid out the site, and they've had conversations with Columbus Light and Water. I think they're moving forward pretty hard on it."
The past few years have seen a spate of national chains and international industries locate in the Golden Triangle, a trend which experts say is due in part to Mississippi's reputation as a low-regulatory, low-tax, non-unionized region. Of the 24 states in the country with right-to-work statutes prohibiting union security agreements, nearly all are located in the South and Midwest.
And there is another reason for optimism: Success breeds success. Every time Columbus lands on a national company's radar, others tend to sit up and take notice, Ward 6 councilman Bill Gavin said Monday afternoon. When they locate here and post healthy profits, that increases the likelihood of others following suit.
With the arrival of restaurants like Logan's Roadhouse and Chick-fil-A, along with hotel development in the area, 18th Avenue North is becoming "a major hot area," Gavin said.
With that in mind, he's pushing for sidewalks to be built along the street, from Seventh Street North to Highway 45 North, allowing travelers to walk from area hotels to local restaurants or to Leigh Mall.
The intersection of 18th Avenue North and Seventh Street North is particularly "a prime corner," Gavin said, especially if another restaurant can be placed in the now-vacant building that housed Barnhill's Buffet.
"Through the efforts of (the Columbus-Lowndes Development) Link and so forth, we're continually looking to bring in retail development," Gavin said. "It's crucial. Real crucial."
Cracker Barrel, which opened its first location in 1969 in Lebanon, Tenn., is known for its homestyle cooking and a gift shop containing everything from saltwater taffy and horehound candy to wooden toys, cast iron skillets and quilts.
The chain boasts 600 restaurants in 42 states.
Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.