HARTSELLE — Sales tax collections in Hartselle are up 4.9% through the first nine months of the current fiscal year, and city officials are citing downtown business growth as a significant contributor.
“Just about every time I go through downtown at night, I see people standing outside waiting to get into the restaurants,” said Council President Kenny Thompson. “This has been amazing and shocked me.”
In the past six months, Pizza Ed’s, a brick-oven pizzeria that serves homemade Italian food, and Bentley’s at The Outhouse have changed downtown and are attracting taxpaying customers to an area that historically closed down at night when it was mostly antique stores, said Mayor Randy Garrison.
“Downtown is different because were not rolling up our sidewalks after 5 p.m.,” he said.
City Clerk Rita Lee said sales tax collections are up a little more than $255,000 compared to the year-ago amount, and alcohol sales taxes are up 12.6%, or $23,455, compared to the same period last year.
Pizza Ed’s and Bentley’s both have alcohol licenses and are open “into the night hours” in downtown, but they are not nightclubs, the mayor said.
Jeremy Reed, who co-owns Bentley’s with Travis Smith, said business has been “extremely busy” since they moved the restaurant from a 32-seat building to the corner of Main and Sparkman streets, where they now seat 230.
He said he expects the restaurant’s sports bar environment to attract more customers when football season starts.
“You can’t be in a seat in here and not have a TV in front of you,” Reed said.
To accommodate the increase in downtown traffic, Garrison said, the city is negotiating the purchase of the old post office parking lot just off Main Street, which will add 40 to 50 public parking spaces.
“We’re not trying to be like any other place,” the mayor said. “We’ve taking what Hartselle is and trying to make it better.”
In addition to the restaurant openings, The Something Blue Shoppe has doubled its floor space, while Life Church completed an $850,000 renovation in the old Western Auto building and Georgia-based MEGA Granite and Marble has opened two showrooms in downtown Hartselle.
The Something Blue Shoppe has been in business almost 50 years and is a full-service bridal salon offering designer gowns and tuxedos, plus invitations and accessories. MEGA is the company that provided most of the granite and marble counter tops in the new Mercedes-Benz Dome in Atlanta.
City officials said a lot of the weekend restaurant traffic is from Life Church, which is across the street from Pizza Ed’s and about two blocks from Bentley’s at The Outhouse.
“We’re seeing people in downtown and at all of our restaurants from everywhere,” Garrison said.
The mayor and Thompson said the city has not decided what to do with the additional revenue, but one priority is expanding Roan Road near the new Hartselle High. Both said the road is used by buses to deliver students and is too narrow.
The mayor said the preliminary cost to upgrade the road is $2.1 million. He said he expects to pursue grant money and use city revenue as matching funds.
“This is one of the projects, but we have a lot of infrastructure needs,” Garrison said.
Thompson agreed, adding that drainage is always a problem in Hartselle. He also said the city hasn’t been able to replace aging fire trucks and police vehicles as needed.
“It’s good to have money again to address some of these needs,” Thompson said.