Tom Hill Sr. Boulevard continues to be magnet for retailers, restaurants

lmorris@macon.comJanuary 18, 2014 

When an orthopedic facility moved into a long-empty department store at the foot of Macon’s Tom Hill Sr. Boulevard, little did anyone realize it would become one of the linchpins to help boost the entire commercial shopping strip.

In 2009, OrthoGeorgia moved into the former Mansour’s department store that had been closed for years. And it wasn’t long before other businesses and shoppers took notice.

“There is just a ton of traffic on Tom Hill every day,” said OrthoGeorgia CEO Bill Lindsey, who acknowledges his facility has helped pump up the viability of Tom Hill -- a commercial and retail strip that stretches from Northside Drive to Interstate 75.

Lindsey said about 400 people come through OrthoGeorgia on a daily basis.

“We’re seeing patients from 122 counties,” he said. “If they come from some of these small towns, they may want to shop at Carol’s (Linens) or go to some of these restaurants that they don’t have in (their) small town.”

OrthoGeorgia not only supplies the area with a steady stream of potential customers, but Lindsey also said at least some of OrthoGeorgia’s 160 employees patronize the strip’s shops and restaurants “every day.”

In the nearly five years since Lindsey’s business arrived, a variety of other businesses have opened nearby, including a fitness center, pet supply store, nail salon, auto parts store, comic book store and a handful of restaurants, including two pizza joints and a new spot for chicken wings.

Carol’s Linens, a home décor business, arrived on the Tom Hill scene about four years ago. In 2010, owner Carol Kaplan moved the store from Eisenhower Parkway into part of the former Barnes & Noble bookstore space. It was the only business in the building for about two years.

“It is nice that we no longer feel like we’re on an island by ourselves,” said Kaplan, referring to Pet Supermarket, Papa John’s Pizza and Batteries Plus Bulbs that have filled in the spaces beside her business.

Even though Carol’s has been around more than 30 years, some customers are just beginning to find it in its current location, Kaplan said.

“Someone comes in almost daily and says they have never been in or just rediscovered us,” she said.

Kaplan attributes a lot of her customer traffic to Ortho­Georgia.

“What we love the most is OrthoGeorgia, because (it) brought their patients who come from all over central Georgia,” she said.

Nearby, Planet Fitness opened in the former Regal movie theater a little more than a year ago after making a $1.6 million investment in the building. Planet Fitness occupies about 16,500 square feet of the 40,000-square-foot building.

“Things have been great there,” said Eric Dore, managing partner of the franchise Sunshine Fitness Macon, which owns Planet Fitness. “It’s one of our fastest growing clubs of our 22 clubs. ... The (shopping) center itself has really come alive. It seems like there is a lot of traffic, which is good for everybody.”

All the businesses in the area “play off each other,” Dore said. “We are all kind of helping each other and growing collectively.”

The economy appears to be on the upswing, and “people have seemed to re-engage,” he said.

“People were just depressed during the recession.”

While some small tenants have moved out of the Tom Hill area, others have moved in, including Little Caesars pizza, Mrs. Homecare medical supplies, Sterling Finance, Cost Cutters salon and Comics Plus.

Buffalo Wild Wings is the newest kid on the Tom Hill block.

The Minneapolis-based company razed the old El Azteca restaurant at 169 Tom Hill Sr. Blvd. and opened a new 3,500-square-foot restaurant in mid-December.

“It’s going pretty good so far,” said Kelvin Jones, the restaurant’s general manager in Macon.

While some people think of it as a sports bar -- it has 72 televisions -- it’s actually more family oriented, Jones said.

The company’s first Middle Georgia store opened in Centerville two years ago.

“Business was so good in Centerville, (the company) figured it could do just as well in Macon,” Jones said. “We found the real estate here and made a deal with the landlord. It’s right off (the interstate) and has easy access. ... It’s near a lot of hotels.”

Steadfast anchors help hold attraction

The longtime big anchor stores -- Kroger and Kmart on one side of Tom Hill and Publix on the other -- remain traditional draws for customers. Also, the area is helped by other familiar eateries such as McDonald’s, Chick-fil-A, Panera Bread, Starbucks, Taco Bell, KFC and Dunkin’ Donuts, all of which particularly pull travelers from the interstate.

Kroger, which has been on Tom Hill since 1988, recently completed a major $7 million renovation and expansion of its store, which added about 29,000 square feet to the now more than 83,000-square-foot store. The project also included adding fuel pumps in 2012. The store’s last major remodel was in 2001.

The upgraded store has been “well received by Kroger customers,” Glynn Jenkins, director of communications for Kroger, said in an email.

“Our staff spends hours researching and evaluating the needs of residents in the community,” Jenkins said. “Along with careful evaluation of the needs of Kroger customers in the surrounding area, strategic planning and the design of the facility both play an important role whenever we expand an existing location.”

The renovated grocery store has helped Carol’s Linens’ business, Kaplan said.

“Also, having the (Kroger) gas pumps over there is great, because it brings more traffic over here,” she said.

Pat Topping, senior vice president of the Macon Economic Development Commission, said some of the draw to the Tom Hill area is because Macon is “really a regional retail hub” for Middle Georgia.

“It is just south of (The Shoppes at River Crossing outdoor shopping center), and so I think you get some traffic from there,” he said.

Also, the improvements made to the Arkwright Road/Tom Hill interchange at I-75 “tremendously improved that area and allow customers to be able to get in and out of that area.”

While Topping said he would like to see the addition of a local, upscale restaurant to replace Taylormade Grill, which was in the Publix shopping center before Taylormade closed in 2011, he understands retail businesses run in cycles.

“Some come and go, and we have seen that,” he said. “(A business) will find its own niche, and that may change every so often.”

The wide variety of stores in the Tom Hill area helps add to its attraction, he said.

“I think anytime you have multiple options, it helps people make the decision to come to that area,” he said.

To contact writer Linda S. Morris, call 744-4223.

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