Casual Food For Thought…

There’s been a lot of back and forth on Facebook about the public hearing regarding the possibility of a Zaxby’s restaurant taking over the former Harper’s location.

Some folks don’t want a fast-food style establishment, some don’t want a drive-thru, some don’t want a franchise, and on and on.

To be sure, no one loves supporting local more than I do. If I could eat every meal at Mr. Friendly’s, I might. I love The Gourmet Shop. Jen and I were regulars at Garibaldi’s. Yesterdays and Saluda’s are awesome, too. I’m in Med Tea Room once if not twice a week. I get my armpit Botox (yes) and eyewear/exams at 20!20 Vision. I’m in Just The Thing & MBoutique anytime I get the chance and Kicks Exceptional Shoes wasn’t just a shoe store, it was a hangout.

Harper’s was on my family’s regular rotation and always a go-to for business meetings.

That all said, I’ve heard a few times the lease on the Harper’s building was $24,000/$25,000 a month. $288,000/year. I mean, what is someone supposed to do with that? Are the local folks supposed to feel bad that we can’t afford that? (tidbit: Zaxby’s website shows the “Estimated Initial Investment” to open a store is between $367,700-$727,500).

Sure it’s in the middle of everything and may be the centerpiece of 5-Points, but if the numbers don’t work, they don’t work. Would I love to move our team and put a shiny F|A – Keller Williams Realty sign on that facade? Absolutely!

I understand about the drive-thru, but I’m not surprised. It’s part of today’s pre-drone commerce. I sat down with a Starbucks executive a few years ago and they said drive-thru stores are something like 30%-50% more profitable than non-drive-thru stores. That’s why they went to all the trouble and expense to move four bays down at Woodhill Mall and were asking me about locations in Forest Acres. I heard (haven’t verified) the Zoe’s on Forest Drive (that took the place of Fran’s) is the #1 store in America. The difference? The drive-thru.

It’s not like it’s the only drive-thru in 5-Points. There’s BB&T, Walgreens, Wells-Fargo, Tripps Fine Cleaners, Cook-Out, and of course Chick-fil-A. The same? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

As far as the franchise/chain thing is concerned, guess who else is a franchise in the area? Groucho’s.

More that quickly come to mind: Starbucks. PureBarre. Egg’s Up Grill.

Guess who has multiple locations? Cantina. Henry’s. Village Idiot.

Guess who else wants to be a chain? A lot of folks. A lot of folks would love to have 800+ locations of their vision and craft.

Further still (and further out), Cafe’ Caturra was a license arrangement, and that’s not the only Tazza Kitchen in America.

Zaxby’s was born from 2 fellas with a conversation that turned into a vision in Statesboro, GA, and whoever has the local rights and means to make something happen at this location, well, I guess we had our chance.

Guess who was also part of a “restaurant group”?, out of Charlotte, North Carolina.

As my buddy Michael proclaimed Rosewood Drive the Pizza Corridor, Columbia has more chicken that it ever did, “Soda.” Chicken finger retailers are everywhere. The chicken factory is woven into the fabric of the Midlands, and of course, there’s the Gamecocks. Are we Chicken City? Chicken Town?

I venture to guess the #1 seller at Harper’s: Chicken fingers and fries.

If you get to the meat on the bones of the real situation here, it’s probably a tax conversation. Our millage rate is high and the property tax is expensive. It’s like Amanda said while we were in her van yesterday (as we were leaving Mr. Friendlys’) “What are we supposed to tell the owner of the property, that he needs to come down because we want someone local to be able to afford it? That’s not going to work.”

Remember, Richland County is filled with property owned by state government, USC, and Fort Jackson. Churches, too. These entities don’t pay property taxes, and non-occupied tax property dollars fill the gap.

Let me be clear, I’m not advocating a Zaxby’s in that spot. I like Zaxby’s fine but don’t go often because I don’t want that freakin’ giant piece of buttered up Texas toast near me. All that toast is good for is to piss me off enough to throw it in the street for the birds. What I’m getting at is it’s just not that easy to plop in something ‘local’ or something cool that may be new to Columbia; all of the sudden everyone seems to be up in arms about the mighty and longtime favorite 5-Points anchor closing.

It did.

We miss Harper’s, for sure.

BTW – As much heat as 5-Points takes for being an alcohol-laden landscape, guess what type of business is nowhere to be found? Answer: Liquor store.

Franklin Jones


  1. Thank you. It is really hard to keep things in perspective. It is about money, and supply and demand. Locally owned Oyster Bar Columbia has been here for 16 years and go ahead, count the chains in the Vista, and they keep coming. The investment in the Harper’s old location is far over the top for us local folks….or someone would have done it…

    Old fashioned business obviously needs to keep going and working hard to keep that a part of our community. But in the era of competition with the drive through mentality of our culture not many of us can compete. Mom and Pops are hanging on….
    Thanks for expressing good insight on this topic. Keep the big picture in our face…
    Mother Shucker

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