Wednesday’s announcement that Alorica Inc. will locate an 840-job customer service center in the BB&T bank building at 230 Frederica St. has racheted up excitement among the downtown business community, providing merchants with visions of hundreds of new customers flowing into their stores and restaurants. “We are all thrilled to death for downtown and the whole city of Owensboro to have this many jobs,” said Debi Ford, owner Simply Chic Home Accents, at 101 W. Third St., two blocks from the future Alorica building. Ford is also interim chairwoman of We Are Downtown.
“For downtown, it will mean more people shopping and eating,” Ford said. “For me, the foot traffic will bring people during their breaks and let them discover downtown. Believe it or not, we still have people say it is their first time here. It’s always going on. We are still getting the word out on what downtown has. We couldn’t be in a better location.” Ford said she has spoken to other We Are Downtown merchants, and the group will probably promote “welcome specials” and shopping events for Alorica employees. “We are glad to welcome them to the downtown family,” she said.
Mike Baker, co-owner of Fetta Specialty Pizza and Spirits at 118 St. Ann St., called the Alorica announcement the most exciting news since Kimberly-Clark (formerly Scott Paper) announced it would build a plant in Daviess County. “It will have a great impact with two shifts on our Fetta,” Baker said. “It is really exciting for us. We certainly welcome them.” Baker said the restaurant, which features pizza by-the-slice among its menu items, will probably develop a reward program for Alorica employees that will involve a discount. Alorica employees can buy a slice of pizza and not spend a lot of time or money doing it, Baker said. “You can get a slice for $3.71,” he said. “You can eat cheap enough if you want to. … I want to learn more about their shifts and how we can serve them.”
Baker said he has had conversations with other downtown business owners and potential owners, and excitement is high for downtown with the addition of Alorica. “Restaurant, hotel, condo, apartments and parking, those are five things certain to happen,” Baker said. Baker said his plans to open a Salsarita’s Fresh Cantina fast casual Mexican restaurant downtown are still very much on, although specific details will come later. “It’s an A-plus location, I can say that,” he said.
Molly MacQuarrie manages Colby’s Fine Foods and Spirits at 204 W. Third St., less than a block from Alorica. She shared in the excitement surrounding the Alorica announcement. “It is really exciting because it will bring even more people downtown and more business,” MacQuarrie said. “We are super excited and glad they didn’t go to (Kentucky) 54. The walking traffic will bring more business.” MacQuarrie said business at Colby’s has increased with the downtown revitalization initiative that began in 2009, along with the arrival of the Boardwalk Pipeline Partners-Texas Gas headquarters a few blocks west. Another burst of business activity is to be expected now, she said. “We will prepare our staff for busier lunches and dinners,” she said. “I don’t see changing our hours, but definitely getting the staff prepared. Colby’s Deli & Cafe at 401 Frederica St., two blocks from Alorica, recently revamped its menu to include more a la carte items for quick purchase, which she said will set the restaurant up to better serve customers in a hurry, MacQuarrie said.
Downtown entrepreneur Larry Conder said he is cautiously optimistic about the overall impact of the jobs on downtown commerce. But anyone thinking about opening a restaurant should consider the affordability factor, he said. The pay scale for the Alorica jobs ranges from $9.78 to 11.96 for most entry-level jobs. “You would have to create a food court atmosphere, with $5 to $6 meals to accommodate that price point,” said Conder. “You see that all the time, with a sandwich shop or deli right next door. … What it does is create an opportunity for a viable deli, for a quick salad or sandwich, get it and go.” The former Nona’s Downtown Market at St. Ann and Second streets, which Conder owns, is a candidate for just such a business, he said. The space is currently vacant. “That is the opportunity on that corner,” Conder said. “My optimism for renting that space out has gone out the roof and it would make money.”
On a related topic — downtown parking — Conder said his recommendation for a third parking garage is a bit farther south than the lot next to the existing GRITS parking garage between Second and Third streets, which city officials have suggested. Putting a parking garage between Third and Fourth streets, perhaps southwest of the GRITS garage, would encourage a “stretch out” of development and make the spot next to the GRITS garage, which sits across Second Street from the Hampton Inn & Suites hotel and the Owensboro Convention Center, available for development, he said.
Conder estimated that 10 to 15 percent of Texas Gas employees engage in downtown shopping at some level on a daily basis. If that percentage holds true for Alorica, downtown restaurants and shops might see 80 to more than 100 potential new customers roaming downtown city streets on a daily basis.