Business owners reflect on city's economic stall

By JENNIFER COHRON
Posted 4/27/17

Daily Mountain Eagle

CORDOVA — Bringing the Piggly Wiggly back to Cordova was a three-and-a-half year struggle following the April 27 tornadoes.

Bringing back customers is taking longer.

The store has recently expanded its offerings in …

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Business owners reflect on city's economic stall

Posted

Daily Mountain Eagle

CORDOVA — Bringing the Piggly Wiggly back to Cordova was a three-and-a-half year struggle following the April 27 tornadoes.

Bringing back customers is taking longer.

The store has recently expanded its offerings in the meat section and added a display of flowers and vegetable plants in an effort to attract new customers.

“We’re doing so many things to try to build more traffic than what we have. We’re not where we need to be,” Phillip Bozeman of Cordova Grocery LLC said last week.

Though the new store is much more attractive than the one destroyed six years ago, Bozeman said replacing a traditional parking lot with street parking has been problematic.

Customers prefer to park near the front door, according to Bozeman. If those handful of spaces are filled, shoppers are less likely to stop because they will have to park on the side or in the back of the building.

Customers who grew accustomed to buying their groceries outside the city have also been slow to embrace the new store.

“I think being closed as long as we were hurt us. We’re creatures of habit. People’s habits change, and it’s been hard to get them to change back,” Bozeman said.

The store has also been a victim of circumstances beyond its control.

In 2015, an Ohio-based developer backed out of a proposed 40-unit housing complex that would have been located across from Piggly Wiggly.

Last year, the city’s only bank closed, giving residents one less reason to come downtown.

The Cordova Water and Gas Board recently relocated to the former bank building. Board officials have expressed the hope that the move will not only be convenient for its customers but will also help generate some business for the nearby grocery store.

Though Bozeman would welcome neighbors on Main Street, no one has announced plans to open a business downtown since Piggly Wiggly opened in November 2014.

Until that day comes, he said he will continue to look for ways to serve new and returning customers.

“You don’t miss the water until the well’s dry. People have forgotten what it was like not to have a grocery store, and it’s easy to take it for granted. But you should buy local when you can because it helps everybody in the long run,” he said.

Across town, Mojo’s Pizza has fared well since the 2011 tornadoes, according to owner Cynthia Rutledge.

The volunteers who worked on rebuilding projects for two years were a boost for business, and students from the three schools located in the city stop in as frequently as they did before the storm.

As a member of the Cordova Economic and Industrial Development Authority, Rutledge has been part of the effort to rebuild the city’s economy.

The problem, as it has been since demolition was completed in 2013, is the empty Main Street.

“A lot of people want a business. They just don’t have the financial backing to build something,” Rutledge said.

The CEIDA cannot currently fund construction of a speculative building because the only funding it receives is rent from Piggly Wiggly.

So on the six-year anniversary of the storms that transformed the landscape, the city waits for an investor ready to take a chance on its future.

“This town was built around the cotton mill. When it left, the town went with it. If we had an industry that would employ people like that, the town can come back,” Rutledge said.