Chuck Williams

How fast is the downtown Columbus economic pie growing?

French bakery called My Boulánge opens in downtown Columbus

Mary Brown and her husband, Dan Zavada, have opened a french bakery called "My Boulánge in downtown Columbus. It features chef Bruno Rizzo.
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Mary Brown and her husband, Dan Zavada, have opened a french bakery called "My Boulánge in downtown Columbus. It features chef Bruno Rizzo.

It seems like the right time to talk about pie.

Everyone should have gotten their fill on pie on Thursday, and if your house was like mine, the leftover pie is the gift that keeps giving.

But we are not going to talk about pecan pie, pumpkin pie, apple pie, sweet potato pie or even chocolate-pecan pie. Let’s talk about the economic pie, especially as it pertains to downtown Columbus.

Interesting pie, that economic pie. It is green and gets sliced in an unconventional manner. As new restaurants like My Boulánge, a French bakery on 12th Street, and Smoke, a barbecue place at the corner of 11th Street and Broadway, it begs a question that needs to be asked: What are the new businesses doing to the pie?

Think about it for a second. If they are not growing the pie, then they are eating a piece that previously belonged to someone else. Numbers suggest as new businesses come into a revived downtown, the pie is growing. From 2010 to 2015, gross receipts for businesses in the heart of downtown are up 43.21 percent, according to numbers prepared by the city for Uptown Columbus Inc. In 2010, $31.4 million was spent in downtown businesses compared to $45 million a year ago. The growth in gross receipts is accelerating as new restaurants and additional retail come on line. The jump is gross receipts from 2014 to 2015 was more than 18 percent.

That alone suggests the pie is bigger.

But it is not all numbers that suggest the pie is growing, and there is enough to go around. Take My Boulánge as an example. It opened almost two weeks ago as people immediately lined up for the fresh pastries, croissants, soups and sandwiches. It wasn’t heard to notice this little slice of France across from the federal courthouse was busy. But something else stood out to me.

I saw faces that I normally don’t see in the line and seated at the tables. I spend a lot of time downtown, especially in Iron Bank Coffee Shop, and I recognize a lot of faces even if I don’t know the name attached to it. I had a couple of folks call me and ask for directions after I wrote about it last week. There was a man wandering around the Eagle & Phenix condos, two blocks away, looking for the “French bakery.”

This suggests people who do not normally come downtown are now doing so. That will translate into bigger numbers down the road — and a bigger pie.

But there is something else about My Boulánge, and perhaps it’s the most telling, that makes me think the pie is expanding. John Teeples, a partner in Iron Bank, owns the building being leased by My Boulánge. He is leasing to a direct competitor less than two blocks away.

If Teeples did not think the pie was expanding, do you think he would have leased to competition? I don’t. On a Saturday morning a week ago, My Boulánge was packed, and there was a line to the door at Iron Bank. It looked like it was a good day for everybody.

Then you have Smoke, owned by restaurateur Mark Jones. For nearly three decades, Country’s has had the monopoly on barbecue in the central business district. Will Smoke hurt Country’s? I doubt it, because of that pie thing — no, not the peanut butter at Country’s. The pie is growing, and that should be good news for Country’s, which has a loyal following.

Each time a new restaurant opens, I look around to see if it will hurt the existing ones. And over the next six months, there will be plenty of opportunity to test out this theory. There are at least a half dozen new restaurants close to opening. And their doors will open just as Columbus State University dumps about 1,800 new faculty, staff and students into downtown.

That influx of new people should be really good for the pie. But for now we are going to have to wait and see.

The bet here is the pie is growing faster than any of us can see.

Chuck Williams: 706-571-8510, @chuckwilliams

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