[This article is by Brian Benefield, who also writes Second Helpings, a series in the Courier about food in Cobb County]
By Brian Benefield
There has been a recent outcry from local business owners on the Church Street section of Marietta Square and from the community as well.
I think their voices should be heard and heard loudly.
Bridger Properties acquired Marietta Station earlier this year, including a large swath of well-established, locally owned specialty shops along Church Street. I have heard from numerous owners in this area, some of whom have chosen to be unnamed for fear of reprisal from Bridger, and think their business practices have been far less than ethical. In some cases only offering to extend their leases month-to-month, but at twice the price of what they’re currently paying. That is just flat. Out. Wrong.
According to an AJC article in February, Jack Arnold, co-founder at Bridger, said, “There’s no plans to drastically change the properties or how they’re managed, so tenants and customers likely won’t notice a difference from the change in ownership.”
I bet if you asked some shopkeepers now, they would beg to differ. The small boutique stores and salons make our town square different, and the people who own these places are more than exceptional. Some of these establishments have been in their location for 5-8 years, and they have poured a great deal of sweat equity into providing valuable niche goods and services for our neighborhood.
My wife and I frequent these stores often and would much rather give our hard-earned dollars to a locally owned shop than a chain store any day of the week. To have a large company such as Bridger swoop in and essentially force out these beloved businesses is a tragedy on so many levels. I have reached out to two different executives at Bridger for comment on their plans for this area and why they’re choosing to displace long-time renters with an intensely loyal customer base, and their silence is deafening. I am sure I know the answer, and it’s about the almighty dollar, not the people.
I feel that Bridger is being morally ignorant, and just because you can do this doesn’t mean you should. One owner, Len Thompson at Lenny’s Hair Salon, chatted with me via Facebook, and he had a lot to say. “The Marietta Square is not only a destination but a community. This action will forever change the dynamic of the square, and the services we provide bring people to the area Monday through Friday during off-restaurant times. Taking away the local service shops will end up hurting the retail spaces that depend on daytime and weekend traffic. The square will become a nighttime dining experience, not the active community we created.”
That’s one heck of a quote, I told Len, and his passion certainly shines through.
A 7th-generation Marietta native, Miki Thompson (not related to Len Thompson), is none too pleased about Bridger’s decision-making process and told me, “the fact that they won’t respond to emails or social media posts speaks volumes about their character.” She exclaimed emphatically, “You should always be careful how you treat others on the way up because you never know who you will meet on the way down.”
Miki was my next-door neighbor for many years and loves the diverse mix of shops and salons on that section of Church street. She’s a kind-hearted soul but is pretty hot about this situation, and so is the entire community. Rightfully so.
I have heard through the grapevine that this strip of shops is slated to become more restaurants. And while I love to frequent new dining options, it is no secret that the (restaurant) industry is struggling mightily, and we already have a plethora of eateries to choose from on the square. To put it mildly, many friends and neighbors are livid about this situation, and it’s definitely a David and Goliath scenario. We all know how that story ends. Let’s all be like David.