South DeKalb Can Support More Restaurant and Retail Diversity

By Ari Meier

Wesley Chapel Road traffic counts among highest in metro Atlanta

On a recent evening, my wife and I contemplated on what we were having for dinner. Anything was okay if it didn’t involve firing up the stove, so we settled on Willy’s Mexicana Grill. My thoughts on biting into a tasty veggie quesadilla went from happy to stressful in a half of a second: it was 9:40 pm, and I knew that Willy’s would close in 20 minutes! Thoughts of “can I make it in time” ran through my head. If we were living in Midtown, Buckhead, or near Emory, I wouldn’t be stressed about time, but we live off of Wesley Chapel Road in south DeKalb and the closest Willy’s is about 20 minutes away near Little Five Points.  While I won’t say how fast I drove in order to make it to Willy’s before closing time, I made it. It was a reminder that the area I chose to live in, doesn’t have much of a choice in restaurants beyond fast food outlets.

Some will say, “what about the Stonecrest Mall area? There are several fast casual and good sit-down restaurants in that area”. Although Stonecrest is not far, it’s also not close enough to make a 5 or 6-minute trip to get food. Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, Starbucks, Chipotle, Taco Mac, Zoe's Kitchen, are a few of the national retailers found in other parts of metro Atlanta-sometimes with several outlets in close proximity. But they are nowhere to be seen in south DeKalb.

If you were to ask the restaurant company business or franchise development departments about the chances of locating an outlet in south DeKalb, they may say that the demographics in much of south DeKalb doesn’t ‘fit their business model'. According to Entrepreneur article, “How to Find the Best Location”, determining where to locate a restaurant can be as simple or complex. “There are, for instance, sophisticated location analysis tools available that include traffic pattern information, demographic and lifestyle data, and competitive analyses.”

Within demographic data is median income. Comparing population and median household income data between 5 south DeKalb ZIP codes and selected metro Atlanta suburbs, you'll find a few interesting things. Hiram, population 3,705, has a Starbucks, Japanese restaurant, Moe's Southwest Grill and a Cold Stone Creamery, all in an area with median household income of $46,793. In addition to Hiram, the cities listed below, have a plethora of fast casual, Japanese/ sushi restaurants.

Their populations are all less than the population of the south DeKalb ZIP codes and all of their median household incomes, except Roswell, Johns Creek and Sandy Springs, are LESS than the median household incomes in south DeKalb. I chose Roswell, Sandy Springs and Johns Creek for a reason. They are considered relatively wealthy, have high quality of life metrics and overall are highly desirable places to live.

Wealthy Johns Creek beat out south DeKalb's median household income by a 'huge' difference of $7,711 a year. That means the median household income in Johns Creek was about $643 more a month or $3.74 more an hour than what the median household income is in the 5 south DeKalb ZIP codes! The median household income in Sandy Springs was a little more, about $5.32 an hour more than the median household income in south DeKalb.

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South DeKalb compares favorably on median household income with the others. So it must be another metric that these desirable restaurants are using to determine where they'll open up. Traffic counts!

Traffic counts are conducted by the state of Georgia for traffic signal, intersection improvements and other updates to help with improving traffic flow. South DeKalb must be facing a dearth of more restaurant diversity because out traffic counts don’t warrant opening up right? Wrong!

Wesley Chapel's traffic count is 51,900 (the count was taken in front of JJ's Fish and Chicken and probably 48,000 of them are in JJ's drive thru!). Anyone who drives on Wesley Chapel is hardly surprised by this number, but to put it in proper perspective, let's look around the metro area and see how busy the other roads are. The number listed next to the roadway name is the largest traffic count anywhere on that road.

Traffic counts

Driving on Ashford-Dunwoody Road is frustrating, the traffic is a little less than that of Wesley Chapel Road, but there are high-rise office buildings, hotels, tons of restaurants and a big mall in that area. Driving on Wesley Chapel, you'll pass a McDonalds, a Waffle House, KFC, Captain D’s, another McDonalds. No big malls, no restaurant variety, no high-rise office buildings and hotels.

Looking at populations, median household incomes and traffic counts around metro Atlanta, we see that south DeKalb compares quite favorably with the other areas, but we don't have what the other areas have. Why? Maybe the restaurants are waiting on south DeKalb's median household incomes to rise higher than Johns Creek (after all, we're only about $640 a month behind). You think we'll be taken 'seriously' then?

This is what disinvestment looks like.

This is what economic 'malpractice' looks like.

There is no reason why the households in this area makes more than Marietta, Lawrenceville, Hiram and McDonough, but doesn't have the restaurant choices those areas have. There are no reasons why I should have to drive all the way to Little Five Points to get a Willy's quesadilla or Lavista Road to go to a Whole Foods when south DeKalb clearly would support most of these restaurants and stores, based on income, population and traffic counts.

Sources:

City-Data

Moving.com

Georgia DOT Traffic Counts (click to be directed to traffic counts site)