Business is booming for some restaurants in the heart of the Cotton District, despite the recently-announced closure of a Starkville culinary destination that partly blamed construction in the area for its financial hardships.
Bulldog Burger and Two Brothers both reported strong sales despite extensive changes to the facade of the neighborhood. Following the announcement that City Bagel would close after 23 years, many in the community became concerned about the impact had on local business by large-scale construction efforts to add housing in the area.
General Manager of Bulldog Burger Ian Few said the construction was initially cause for concern when it began last year. The restaurant leased the old gas station across the street for parking, and once construction took that parking away, there was fear sales would decrease because of it.
"We were really concerned for a while," Few said. "We only have 15 spots in our parking lot, and we can serve 175 people."
In the face of these concerns, however, the restaurant saw an increase in sales.
Barton Dinkins of Two Brothers similarly confirmed that his eatery had not been negatively affected by construction in the area over the last year.
The project across from Bulldog Burger, which will be a mix of residential and commercial space, is being built by the Alabama-based property managing company Integrated Multifamily Services.
IMS' president Jackson Wallace said he hoped the first phase of the project would be done this fall, with the second phase following in spring 2020.
According to Wallace, when people move in, businesses will notice.
"When we bring students in, in theory, that should be good for businesses," Wallace said.
Construction's impact on small businesses is a well-known but little-documented phenomena. Some municipalities implement construction mitigation programs (CMPs) to dampen the economic strain put on businesses by public improvements
However, the construction in the Cotton District is being done by the private sector, rather than the city or state.
Sungman Kim, Starkville's community development director, said if the city needed a public improvement in the future and its construction would harm local businesses, the city would prepare a CMP.
Kim noted that he did not believe a business had been negatively impacted by a public improvement.
Not every business was able to weather the economic strain brought on by construction.
Ty Thames, of Eat Local Starkville, announced this week that neighborhood staple City Bagel would be closing down on June 23.
Eat Local Starkville purchased the restaurant in 2016 from the Tkach family, who opened it in 1996.
Thames said the construction created issues with the restaurant’s parking lot, such as obscuring its entrance and having construction cones taking up parking spaces outside of the lot.
"People figured out getting into City Bagel was a hassle," Thames said. "And they didn't want to do that."
When the project next to City Bagel began last year, Thames said he expected it to affect sales, but he was shocked at how much sales actually dropped, making it impossible to maintain the labor costs of the restaurant.
As construction dragged on, Thames knew the damage was done and the restaurant would have to be closed.
"There becomes a line in the sand," Thames said. "And, unfortunately, we crossed it. We have a great staff. That's the hardest thing for me."
Newly-elected Ward 5 Alderman Hamp Beatty of said the loss to his ward with City Bagel's closing was tragic and an unfortunate product of the growing pains Starkville has to endure.
"It's inevitable," Beatty said. "It's always going to happen to someone. I think as a city, and as a city official, we want to embrace growth, but in the right way."
Mayor Lynn Spruill echoed Beatty's sentiment, though she remained hopeful for the future of the location.
"I am very sorry to see them close, but I understand that things change," Spruill said. "I feel certain there will be something else there that will contribute positively to our community and our downtown connection to the Cotton District and the university."
For Thames, he doesn't want to cast blame on any single aspect for the restaurant's closing, but he does want the community to be informed when somebody local is struggling to prevent more closures.
"During hard times, we as a community need to be aware of what's going on," Thames said.
Tabor Development and Progressive Properties are building the future residential space next to City Bagel.
Representatives of the companies could not be reached for comment by press time Sunday.