Valdosta Daily Times

January 18, 2014

Are restaurant closings a sign of problems?

The Valdosta Daily Times

-- — Since the first of the year, six restaurants have closed in Valdosta. Some were fairly new and others have been local favorites for decades.

The closing of Willy’s Restaurant at the beginning of January was followed this week by Ruby Tuesday, McAllister’s Deli, the Gold Plate, Taqueria del Sureste, and Bad Habitz. Dozens of employees are now without jobs, and community members are concerned about what this may mean for the local economy.

It’s not uncommon for restaurants to come and go. It’s a difficult business. Family-owned operations are more susceptible due to changing dynamics and relationships. The hours are long and it may take years to turn a livable profit.

A number of locally owned restaurants have fared well for many years, while others come and go. It’s an ever-shifting environment, dependent upon factors beyond profitability and customer base.

One of the closed restaurants already has a new tenant preparing to open. Another may reopen under new management. Still another may reinvent itself and reopen stronger than ever.

Locally owned businesses, particularly restaurants, coming and going is not unusual or a cause for alarm. But the closure of large, national chain restaurants is. Both McAllister’s Deli and Ruby Tuesday have dozens of restaurants in dozens of states, but chose to close their locations in Valdosta. McAllister’s still has 26 locations all around Georgia, while Ruby Tuesday has more than a dozen. Both with restaurants in much smaller cities. All still open. So why did they close in Valdosta?

Local entrepreneurs will continue to try, with some succeeding and some deciding to go in a different direction. Expanding chains will continue to come to the community.

But national chains pulling out of the city should be taken seriously as a symptom of a larger issue. Is it the lack of new industry? Jobs with good wages? Manufacturing jobs?

Valdosta’s economy cannot sustain itself on low-paying, call-center jobs or jobs requiring few skills. The city cannot continue to expend time and money on attracting high-tech companies which may offer higher wages but only to a dozen or fewer employees.  Without a strong vision for the future, without a strong recruitment process in place, without leaders willing to do what’s best for the entire community and not just their own bottom lines or agendas, this may be but a glimpse of Valdosta’s future.

It’s time to put egos aside and work together to make a difference. But forming a committee to study the issue isn’t the answer this time. Valdosta needs decisions, not more discussions.