Why can’t we get [fill in the blank with your favorite retailer, restaurant, or grocery store] in Aiken?


AIKEN, S.C. (WJBF) — Whenever a new business is built or others go out of business, there are always suggestions as far as what should be in its place. So why is it that we get even more mattress stores and Dollar General’s but can’t we get a [fill in the blank with your favorite retailer, restaurant, or grocery store] here in Aiken?’

“There are three things that people look at when they’re looking to locate a business — location, location, location,” Aiken Economic Development Director Tim O’Briant told NewsChannel 6’s Shawn Cabbagestalk.

There are plenty of locations available in Aiken. From the Northside to Silver Bluff, there are many signs enting development. When a recent Fatz Cafe closed in Aiken, many took to social media expressing what they wanted to see. An Olive Garden, Perkins, Bonefish Grill, and a sports bar were some of the ideas thrown around.

“It’s not based necessarily on the desire of people who live in the neighborhood. It’s made by the private sector, by investors who want a return on their investment,” O’Briant shared.

We’ve learned the number one misconception in the community when it comes to bringing new business into the area is that city leaders can pick up the phone and simply woo a retailer in. “I can’t make a call and ask them to consider Aiken because it’s a wonderful community,” O’Briant said. “They don’t make decisions based on that nice warm, fuzzy, friendly feeling. They make it based on how many times will their cash register ring in a given day,” he added.

Retailers like Walmart, Target, and others usually have a real estate team who studies key statistics. We’re told, usually, they are very far along in their process by the time they speak to the local government. Those statistics, including demographics and volume, drive their selections.

“So they can get some pretty refined details even down to the street corner. If we put an X, Y, Z store here, we know that 20,000, 30,000, 100,000 people are going to pass this every day and we’ll be able to get X percent of those to shop in our facility,” O’Briant stated.

Officials in Edgefield County agreed that retailers’ decisions boil down to demographics. “It’s math, it all comes down to the numbers if you talk with any of them. They know what they need to turn a profit and if the return on investment is not there, they’re not interested. We don’t want somebody to open a business here and fail. They look at disposable income, how many houses are located within a certain radius, etc.,” Edgefield County Administrator Tommy Paradise said.

Paradise added that companies also look at water and sewer connections in the area. “With Edgefield County, you know, as a County, there are portions where we don’t have public water or public sewer available. So all of these are things that go into development, he said.

Aiken is a secondary market for the CSRA which could mean some options across the river may never be in the All America City. “Augusta, Georgia Metropolitan Statistical Area which means a bullseye goes right down on Broad Street and Augusta and they look at the population within a mile, five miles, 10 miles, 20 miles, 50 miles,” O’Briant said.

The U.S. Office of Management and Budget, Census Bureau and other agencies define Augusta’s Metropolitan Statistical Area as comprising of Richmond, Burke, Columbia, Lincoln, and McDuffie Counties in Georgia and Aiken and Edgefield Counties in South Carolina.

“If you have an outlet for a national brand that you’re interested in and it’s located in Augusta, Georgia or Evans it’s probably not going to locate in Aiken any anytime soon because when they pick that location in Augusta, they were counting on people from Aiken coming to make that successful. So they then would defeat their purpose if they went to every town,” O’Briant shared.

You may see more of a particular brand compared to others based on its company goals.

“Dollar General has a national strategy of putting those so close together that you could probably walk from one to the other. It’s high volume, low margin, and that is their strategy. Olive Garden, which is very popular, their strategy is very much the opposite, they want regional locations where they draw from a wide area and they’re a destination, so they’re not going to have an Olive Garden in every town,” he shared.

O’Briant says that one way to bring more options to an area is to bring more people in. “That’s really what we’re concentrating on. We’re trying to make sure that we have housing that’s available and attractive, across all different levels of income from affordable and workforce housing.”

So how can you help bring your favorite store to the area? O’Briant says that it starts with the census. Those totals drive data on demographics that companies study when selecting sites.

“[Developers] build on that so that they know the incomes of the individuals who live in those areas. They know the numbers, they know where they live, where they work, where they travel generally every day.”

Also, as you shop your favorite store elsewhere, let them know that you would like to see it in your area as well. “But in the end, they’re really gonna make those decisions based on when the numbers hit the point where they think there’s going to bring in traffic and the customers to support what they want to do,” O’Briant added.

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