The arrival of numerous restaurants and others with the Queen Street retail families came at an excellent time for Southington. A huge empty building does nothing for the tax base or the economy. ShopRite revitalized a once quiet plaza and then came more restaurants, more stores and the picture continues to be painted. That was years ago.
Queen Street was once the scourge of local citizens when it developed from a sleepy two-lane Route 10, from Oak Hill Cemetery to the Plainville line, into a massive cornucopia of restaurants, gas stations, big and small retail outlets, parking lots and neon lights. Downtown was finished, pundits claimed. Traffic became too heavy for the narrow road and small retail plazas only added frustration to motorists. Others predicted an early death for the street named after an Indian maiden.
But today, the 2.5-mile stretch is the town’s economic golden goose. And, downtown is stronger than it’s been in 30 years.
Retail giants employ marketing search teams that seek out prime locations with easy access off major highways and are close to downtown centers and have good roads. Southington has it all.
Road improvements by the state Department of Transportation enabled Queen Street to avoid being a vacated strip of empty restaurants and stores. Bolstered by out-of-town shoppers, the major chains or “leader stores” have capitalized on the region’s best-known retail heaven.
Queen Street had been wounded over the years by the departure of Kmart, Ames, Caldor, Foodmart and the several restaurants. Yet, it never suffered a fatal shot. Wal-Mart, like it or not, continues to be the number one leader store even with competitive Target a few miles away.
Wal-Mart may chase some competitors away but there’s something to be admired when other businesses want to open somewhere in the vicinity of the retail giant.
Many assumed Chili’s was too popular to have competitive eateries within a half-mile but the Outback and the now departed Ruby Tuesdays and Bertucci’s were quickly replaced with other eateries. The additions of Noodles, Smash Burgers, The Mission, Chipolte and Noble appeared to just add to everyone’s eating habits.
The recent facelifts of plaza stores, restaurants and Holiday Inn Express proved once again that Queen Street is a tantalizing lady. Even Bob’s Furniture found us and nearby Pilgrim Furniture City is doing just fine and so is Staples and the new liquor stores plus the new cigar store and let’s not forget Reverse Solution’s retail outlet and the huge BJ’s.
Overall, the town’s tax base flutters when Queen Street looks like it’s fading away and then rebounds. Southington’s enterprise zone, accompanied by natural incentives, continues to attract a replacement for the departures. We’re actually running out of new space.
The overall economic stability of the town’s business community is difficult to judge. The advantages of the retail Queen Street have helped the town derive taxes from the once all-manufacturing Queen Street. Saddled along the former New Haven Railroad tracks are large companies that are convinced Southington is the perfect place to do business.
Take Yarde Metals for example. This huge company replaced most of Pratt & Whitney’s buildings and then some. What Bristol lost, Southington finally gained by opening its arms to one of the better-recognized companies in the northeast.
So the next time you see an empty storefront on Queen Street or become disappointed when your favorite restaurant chain closes, don’t fret – something will take its place. Plus the street has more than 70 places to eat or drink.
Yet, Southington is fortunate to have retained its quaint downtown business district. Downtown is a sentimental favorite. It is a beloved area, slower in pace and worthy of smaller business investments.
Queen Street is appreciated but hardly beloved. Yet, Queen Street is Southington’s enterprising economic oasis. Without it, we’d all be paying more taxes.