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Retailers, Restaurants Still Courting Cookeville; Lack Of Built Space Concern

/ The Upper Cumberland's News Leader
Retailers, Restaurants Still Courting Cookeville; Lack Of Built Space Concern

Retailers and restaurants continue to show interest in coming to Cookeville, though space is starting to become a concern.

Cookeville Economic Development Consultant Melinda Keifer said the community is seeing more interest from restaurants and smaller niche retailers because “big box” retailers are struggling. Keifer said competition with the internet has changed that part of retail, but that is only one part of a very large puzzle.

“There’s so many variables that they look for,” Keifer said. “Believe you me it is always a goal of our whole economic development team and the city and the county to increase our retail capacity.”

Keifer said a big concern for a lot of larger retailers and restaurants is space. Shoppes At Eagles Point recently leased its last remaining commercial space. Keifer said the city has now got to look to the future.

“Where is the next Shoppe At Eagles Point right?” Keifer said. “Where can we put that? So, you know, we’ve got to find a spot, multiple spots, and continue to nurture those. The other thing I think we have ahead of us is continuing to be strategic and tell our story effectively, so we can land a win.”

While multiple pieces of land are zoned for commercial retail, no specific plans have been outlined.

“When we have been tapped on the shoulder by some of the larger retailers that’s a big, big, big question, where and how, right,” Keifer said. “I think because we are getting close to what I would call a built capacity on available empty land, there’s also a huge trend in the market for, quote unquote, redevelopment. Property that may have an existing structure but is underutilized.”

Michael’s, for example, has reportedly agreed to a deal to take over the Office Max location on South Jefferson Avenue. Big R Farm and Home remodeled the former K-Mart location just down the road.

“If there was one answer on how we could recruit other national brands like a Home Depot, like a Target, like a Costco, you know it would be an easy game, and it’s not,” Keifer said.

Keifer said one of the big problems with big box retailers is they are overly data driven. Keifer said Cookeville has a population of roughly 38,000 people and Putnam has a population of 82,000, but during the day 100,000 people come into Cookeville.

“How do we prove that?” Keifer said. “How do we tell that story? When at first blush they’re counting roof tops and looking at per capita income. How can we become more strategic at telling our story?”

Keifer said when well-managed restaurants and retailers come into Cookeville they exceed sales expectations. She said this is because Cookeville has a unique geography.

“Within the city limits of the city of Cookeville, we have five exits,” Keifer said. “You need to think about that for a minute okay? That is phenomenal and we’re visible almost on all five of those you can see the community, so just being able to catch the travel market is phenomenal.”

Keifer said any time a news business opens it usually over-performs.

“When Publix came in there was talk about us basically robbing from Peter to pay Paul. In other words, that pie is only so big and we’re just cutting it into smaller piece. We were able to state emphatically and factually, of course when a new store opens some of the other are going to drop a little bit, but only for a short period of time. And what we were able to see after a few months, any revenue generated by Publix, everyone went back to where they were, and Publix was new dollars. We weren’t just cutting that pie into smaller pieces. We actually built a bigger pie.”


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