By Jason O'Boyd, Staff Writer
Monday, February 4, 2013 —
It’s easy to figure out where almost everything happens in Locust.
The Village at Red Bridge shopping center is easily the busiest place in the small but growing Stanly County town. With two of the nation’s busiest retail outlets — Walmart and McDonald’s — the area sees an estimated 19,000 people on a given day, according to WRS Inc. Real Estate Investments, which owns the location.
Walmart anchors the 181,700-square-foot power center and was the driving force behind the location, which was built from the ground up and opened in 2011. McDonald’s moved out of its location on the other side of town and joined the outlet to form a big one-two punch that immediately attracted shoppers of all ages.
And it hasn’t stopped there. Verizon soon opened a location and Andy’s, one of the most successful sit-down fast food restaurants in North Carolina, followed. And that’s led to a recent surge in new businesses since September.
Great Clips joined the mix of retailers with a store that opened on Sept. 19. Pizza and Beyond, a popular pizza place that was located at one time less than five minutes from Red Bridge, opened the week after Thanksgiving. On Dec. 11, El Vaquero Mexican Kitchen replaced a Japanese restaurant that closed its doors back in early fall.
“Typically shopping centers have healthier tenants anchored around the center, whether it’s a grocery store or something in-between,” said Jude Crayton, Broker-In-Charge with WRS.
“Walmart, we are fortunate to do business with those guys. You’ll get people who will travel further because it’s a one-stop spot for a lot of items. For the other businesses, the hope is it creates cross-shopping. We continue to try to bring as diverse an amount of tenants as we can.”
Crayton said the company has been seeking other new tenants to fill the six spaces currently available within the two side buildings. Each location is between 1,200-1,600 square feet. WPS also has aspirations for two outparcel locations that would add new buildings to 1.49 acres and 1.52 acres of undeveloped land on the premises.
“This time, we don’t have anybody on the horizon,” Crayton said.
“One of the challenges with Locust is it sits between Albemarle and Charlotte. National tenants, they drive through the Midland and Locust area and on (Hwy.) 24-27, it’s easy for people to say there’s no business here. But that’s not the case.
“One of the things we’ll continue to do is contact local brokers and national chains and go cold-call and knock on doors in places like Albemarle and Concord to see if those businesses there would like to open a new location at Red Bridge. A few people have been kicking the tires, but nothing worth reporting at this time.”
Ask the three newest businesses at Red Bridge and they’re glad they’ve made the decision to open in the shopping center. In each case, they believe it was the right decision and will be a benefit sooner rather than later.
Owner Christopher Poazola took a big leap of faith when he opened his restaurant at Red Bridge. Like 1,111.5 miles.
Poazola lived and worked in Oklahoma City at a Mexican restaurant. But his desires to open his own place led him to Locust, where he and another individual took over the space previously occupied by Shogun Japanese Restaurant.
“I looked at the place one time on the Internet. I called the next day, somebody was looking at a way to replace the Japanese restaurant,” Poazola said.
Poazola saw the location and knew it had possibilities. After closing the deal in September, work was done for nearly three months to get everything in place for the Dec. 11 opening.
Poazola, who was born in San Bernardino, Calif. and grew up in Guadalajara, Mexico, came to the U.S. at age 14. He had worked at the Oklahoma City location for the last nine years and had a stake in the Mexican restaurants there before making the move.
Planting the business at Red Bridge turned out to be a good move because it put his establishment in the middle of the busiest area in town.
“Every time a customer comes in, I ask them how they found our place,” Poazola said.
“ ‘I stopped in Walmart. Walmart, Walmart, Walmart.’ … This is a small town and everybody talks about everything. After we opened, we are doing good business, about what we expect. But it’s growing. It’s not stopping.
“Every day, we’ve got an increase, maybe $10, $20, it doesn’t matter how much as long as there’s an increase.”
Poazola says he likes to serve his customers big portions and doesn’t turn down offers for things such as additional rice or sour cream, something that may cost extra elsewhere.
He also likes to blend in with his crew, wearing the same uniform as the other servers at the location. It can be hard to pick him out from the rest of the employees, but he feels that allows him to blend in and get to know his customers without standing out like a typical manager might.
“Check our prices, take one of our menus and compare us with all the restaurants,” Poazola said.
“I can tell you will not find a cheaper place than us and the quality food we have.
“If you don’t serve people, you’ll go out of business. You have to be friendly and talk to everyone. You will see me dress like everyone. When you go to a franchise restaurant, the manager has to dress up in a tie. No, no, no. Nobody is going to know who I am.
“We are simple and we are not the kind of persons that say ‘I’m the owner and I’m not going to do this.’ I wait on tables, I do chips.”
Pizza and Beyond
If the name sounds familiar, there’s a reason for that.
Pizza and Beyond was in a small house on N.C. 24-27 just outside of Midland, the small Cabarrus County town adjacent to Locust. It moved to a location near the Cabarrus-Mecklenburg county line before settling at Red Bridge. There’s also another location in Mint Hill over in Mecklenburg County.
“We wanted to be able to serve the Midland and Locust area,” Jennifer Sheredos, general manager, said of the move to Locust.
“We used to operate, the first three years we were open, in a little house. We had a lot of Locust customers who came out to us. However, when we moved to further away, they weren’t willing to drive all the way there.
“So we decided to come here, knowing our Mint Hill store can go ahead and take care of those customers by the Charlotte line where we were and we could go ahead and stretch our customer profile all the way down here and into the Albemarle area.”
The business has been open for six years and, according to owner Phil Stefanelli, would have moved to Red Bridge if the location had been open before the move to the other side of Cabarrus County.
Stefanelli and Sheredos agree the Walmart location gives them much more foot traffic and opportunities than they’ve had before.
“We haven’t lost any of our regulars and we gained what we lost when we moved from the house,” Stefanelli said.
“(WRS) likes to have a lot of service stores here. You get your hair cut, your nails done, that’s what they’re looking for,” Sheredos said.
“As far as restaurants, they think they are capped. They said pizza, burgers and Mexican. They like to put some more service shops. You know what that does? It brings people in. That’s smart. They’ll get their nails done then they’ll go get a slice of pizza."
Pizza and Beyond is open for lunch and dinner and may experiment with a weekend breakfast, something that was extremely popular at the previous location. The business serves a variety of pastas and baked specialities for eat-in or take-out.
“We’re packed all the time,” Stefanelli said of the popularity of the weekend breakfast at the former location.
“We didn’t serve lunch at that location because of the population. It was a fill in for us. But now that the people have gotten used to it, they are really asking for it now.”
Being the manager is a change of pace for Elizabeth Wiggins.
She worked at the Great Clips location in Albemarle for six years as a stylist and was pursuing a degree as a medical assistant. But Matt Shepherd, who owns a majority of the Great Clips franchises in the region, came to her with the chance to become manager at the Locust location.
“I had just finished my second degree, and I was kind of next in line (to be a manager),” Wiggins said.
“The first time I was still in school and I was like ‘No, I’m going to finish this degree’ because I was going for medical assisting. He said “Think about this’ and so I did, and I talked it over with my family. I thought it would be a great opportunity.”
She said the transition has been smooth, and the fact the business got off to a good start made things not only a little easier but very exciting.
“They give us lots of training and send us to a program to get us ready for managing, different classes and stuff. They don’t just throw you and watch you sink or swim,” Wiggins said.
“I was just nervous, I guess, to take the authority figure. I wanted to make sure it was run properly. Oh my gosh, I was nervous.”
The Locust location is one of more than 3,000 Great Clips across the country. You can get your customary hair cut but the place also offers styling and perms and also sells various products.
The Locust location started out with a $2.99 special when the store first opened and has gradually worked up to the current pricing. Wiggins said the store recently had 280 customers, with 100 of them first-timers.
She also believes location is a driving force and that having other places to shop gives customers variety and increases foot traffic into her store.
“Customers that come here are surprised that we had been here since September,” Wiggins said.
“It’s just making that noise and word-of-mouth people seeing us. It’ll pick up for sure.
“And we’re doing good too. (Shepherd) opened up a store last year in Statesville and they are doing 100 to 175 people a week where we are hugging the 300 mark a week, which is great, awesome for this growing community.”