NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Wausau cheered when there was news of an Olive Garden coming to town. There’s always been a lot of talk about what we don’t have. Red Lobster comes to mind. (By the way, we will never get a Red Lobster. The chain doesn’t offer franchises in smaller towns where Friday fish fries are prominent. A high overhead chain-restaurant can’t under-perform on Fridays and still be profitable.)
Personally, I’d like to see a Borders Books in town. Not that I have anything against Barnes & Noble, but Borders has a better music section. I’m also a big fan of the areas independent booksellers, which are excellent local businesses. Borders will never come; our area is probably saturated with book stores.
Lots of people have their own economic development wish lists. People wished there was an upscale downtown hotel. The Jefferson Street Inn filled the void. Others are still waiting for a Chili’s, Ruby Tuesday’s, or TGI Fridays to spring up.
But there should be a moment of pause before we wish for big box development. I’m not overly concerned about increased competition. Especially in the restaurant segment people will navigate towards their personal taste preferences. If you have a favorite local restaurant you’ll still go there. And many local places are competitive on price, especially for lunch. My warning is this: if we attract big corporate names that we can only marginally support, there’s a lot of economic destruction when they fail. Empty big box buildings can sit vacant for years. Wal Mart alone has left behind dozens of old stores, empty, in areas where they’ve upgraded to super-centers. Those sites are difficult to redevelop. They're too large for other retailers. They are eyesores. They lower the property values of other land that could be used for development. They scare off other restaurants and retailers that are eyeing the area.
I think Olive Garden will be a big success. (Pasta has the highest profit margin in the restaurant business. Olive Garden charges about the same for its pasta as other restaurants charge for steak.) Texas Roadhouse continues to do big business. But other stories are not as rosy. Some of the big indoor water parks, the hotels near the new hospital, the chain-store retailers along Rib Mountain Drive would like to do more business than they are doing now. We need to make sure we don’t bite off more than we can chew.
Operations Manager-Midwest Communications, Wausau