Exemplar Fitness’ Jason Fiutem isn’t not one to mince words, especially when it comes to his business.
“I’m not going to lie to you, it hurts,” he says. “I have been fortunate enough and worked hard enough to develop a nice clientele for the business. New clients are looking for us every day … when they can’t physically find the fitness center it hurts.”
The hurt Fiutem refers to is largely from the visual impact of the construction project to install the new Harris Teeter grocery store. The store will take up the space where the Piggly Wiggly grocery store once stood, but the store will be bigger in scope than the Pig.
The materials, machinery, and (during working hours) manpower that is going into the construction of the building is cordoned off from the rest of the shopping center’s parking lot by an imposing chain-link fence. The project obscures the view of many shopping center business’ signs, themselves a key part of many of the business’ marketing efforts.
It’s hard to pinpoint the tangible effect the situation is having on businesses, however year-to-year sales records are kept by everyone, and across the board business is down according to tenants. The intersection has already lost Party Kingdom and Cartridge World, and rumor has it Pakmail might be next.
“It’s killing me,” says Cory’s Grilled Cheese proprietor Cory Hutchins, a subtle, atypical edge to his tone. “I’m down 40 percent.”
According to Southern Real Estate Management the firm managing the property for Harris Teeter (which in turn is owned by the Kroger grocery store chain), there’s nothing they can do. Southern property manager Paula Carson, tasked with handling the project, said as much in an email to shopping center tenants obtained by JIM. In her email, she references marketing signs with business names on them the firm had initially considered installing in an effort to compensate tenants.
“’We can’t put banners on the fences as we originally planned. There is a fear that the wind will topple the fence onto the vehicles. I am picking up “yes, we are open” banners today to be installed at both entrances plus a couple “drive safely” banners,’” wrote Carson.
“‘I also spoke to the contractor about the size of the staging area and possibly getting a row or two back. (He) assures me when all of the needed supplies and equipment are in place, there won’t be any room extra room in there. They have truly taken only the room necessary to get the job done.’”
And while Southern asserts they’ve done all they can do, many tenants disagree, pointing to the fact that though they were promised breaks on rent, maintenance, and marketing costs, funds augmenting their losses have yet to materialize.
“It’s tough, even though our business is a little bit unique in that we have an abnormal number of customers who shop here for one particular product we carry,” comments Brennan Jones, co-owner of Holly’s Liquors.
For his part Fiutem, like so many of his fellow tenants of the shopping center at 1739 Maybank Hwy., has the business sense, savvy, and acumen to know when and how to pick his battles. In this case, there’s simply no one person to blame, the situation just “hurts.”