Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

July 16, 2014

Five Guys, two big boxes and the long haul to Christiansburg, Va.

— We’ve noticed over the years that one of the first things that folks on Facebook will respond to is a question asking what new restaurant or department store you would like to see in our region. Normally, we get tons of responses when such a question is asked. And a new big box chain or two is normally on the wish list of our Facebook followers.

We learned last week that several of the big box chains are still looking at the region as a possible site for a new business. Nobody has obtained an option on land yet, but that’s not unusual, according to Mercer County Development Authority Director Janet Bailey. She says these big box chains normally tend to look at potential sites for quite a while before making any actual decisions. Any of the big name big box stores, including Target and Home Depot in particular, would certainly be welcomed and well supported in our region.

Target, as well as Barnes and Noble, are two of the reasons why I travel to neighboring Christiansburg, Va., every now and then. But from the Bluefield area, it is a somewhat long drive. If you live in Princeton you can cut an extra 30 minutes off of the commute time, but the ride still seems much longer than it should be.

We also learned last week that Mercer County’s long-planned multi-purpose equestrian center project is evolving again — this time to include a possible casino component. I found the news to be worthy of a story — although I feared it would be met with a degree of negativity by some. And the initial response on our Facebook page wasn’t positive — although a few did defend the idea. And it is important to remember that at this point it is just an idea. As I have stated before, we need big ideas in our region. Some will come to fruition, and others won’t. But if we don’t try — and don’t come up with a big idea every now and then — we can’t expect our region to grow.

As a general rule, gambling is not a good idea. But there are certainly tons of video lottery parlors in our region. And that would suggest a local market for such a development. But a casino — as well as a possible multi-purpose center and related equestrian functions — also would be largely targeted to out-of-town visitors traveling along Interstate 77. That’s why Exit 9 in Princeton has been so successful over the years. It’s a mix of local and out-of-town traffic that are supporting these businesses.

The out-of-town travelers are looking for interstate exits with restaurants, gas stations and other attractions to stop and eat, shop and sleep. Having a casino, equestrian center or a Target and Home depot for that matter, adds to the overall attraction of a particular interstate exit. And of course the more people who stop at Exit 1, 9 and 14 in Mercer County, the better. These are out-of-town dollars that are being spent in our region. It is helpful to the overall economy. And the same goes for the many out-of-town of visitors who thankfully continue to support the area while enjoying the Hatfield-McCoy Trail in Mercer and McDowell counties.

The recent addition of Hobby Lobby to the Mercer Mall has also certainly been a positive. But we could still use a few new retail shopping options. My personal preference would be a Target department store. A Five Guys restaurant would be nice as well. Because nothing — at least in my humble opinion —  beats a Five Guys burger. Not healthy. Very fattening. But, oh so very good.

Word of a possible stand-alone Chick-fil-A in Princeton along Oakvale Road also is creating some excitement for folks — particularly those living in the greater Princeton area. Let’s face it — everyone likes going to Mercer Mall to eat at Chick-fil-A. But having another possible Chick-fil-A close to the Interstate 77 interchange would certainly make a lot of business sense, as it would once again cater both to local traffic and out-of-town visitors looking for their favorite chicken sandwiches and nuggets.

I would love to see a Barnes and Noble in the area, but I have a sneaky feeling that this dream is probably never going to happen. But when you stop to think about the fact that we have six colleges located in Mercer and Tazewell counties alone, another book store in the area would certainly seem to make a lot sense. So would a Target. I guess it is OK to dream every now and then because Christiansburg, Va., is a long haul. I would love to see some of these long-requested stores and restaurants closer to home.

Charles Owens is the Daily Telegraph’s assistant managing editor. Contact him at cowens@bdtonline.com. Follow him @BDTOwens.

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