In an era of doom and gloom, some good news for downtown Athens

In this economy, any news not about layoffs, bailouts, or stocks crashing is good news. Two upcoming downtown Athens events are certainly good news for the Athens economy.

 

These bright spots include the opening of Square One Fish Company, a new downtown Athens restaurant, and the upcoming Athens Annual Twilight festival and bicycle race.

 

Square One Fish Co. is located at the intersection of North Thomas Street and East Hancock Avenue, right next to the Classic Center. As the name indicates, the restaurant will specialize in seafood. Square One is slated to open May 24th, just in time for Memorial Day.

 

Getting the restaurant off the ground has not been easy in this economy, however.

 

“The name actually refers to how difficult it has been to get this place ready to open,” said Joe Cascio, owner of Square One Fish Co. “We kept finding ourselves back at square one.”

 

Square One will offer Caribbean and Floridian seafood with a Southern flair, Cascio said. The menu will feature about 10 different types of fish, as well as oysters, clams, and mussels.

 

Worried about the normally outrageous prices at a seafood restaurant? Don’t be. Lunch fare will cost around $10 and dinner fare will be in the range of $20, Cascio said.

 

“With the way the economy is right now, we wanted to have moderate prices,” Cascio said. “Good luck getting people to come in for $30 a plate right now. We also wanted to have decent prices so students could afford to come here.”

 

The restaurant will be a welcome boost to the downtown Athens area. The restaurant should generate about 20 new jobs, according to General Manager Shannon Pritchett.

 

“We’ve pretty much got our staff set in place,” Pritchett said. “We’ve been able to hire some experienced servers, some of them college students, and some experienced chefs who had been laid off recently by local restaurants.”

 

Rachel Bachmann is a senior at the University and is one of these students. Bachmann was laid off in March by Mirko’s Pasta on Gaines School Road but will be working as a waitress for Square One come late May.

 

“It was just really lucky timing for me,” Bachmann said. “I live on North Avenue, so one day when I was driving home I saw that Square One was supposed to open up in a couple months. The next week Mirko’s had to lay some people off, so I applied at Square One, and I got the job.”

 

The theme of laid off workers being hired is music to Kathryn Lookofsky’s ears. Lookofsky is the director of the Athens Downtown Development Authority.

 

“While some restaurants and businesses downtown have laid off some of their workers, the downtown economy is still doing OK,” Lookofsky said. “But the opening of Square One does come at a good time, both because it will create some needed new jobs and because it will serve as another reason for people to visit downtown.”

 

Lookofsky points to this weekend’s 30th Annual Athens Twilight bike race and festival as another welcome boost for the local economy. Twilight’s main event is a bike race, the Twilight Criterium, where 150 cyclists compete in a 60-kilometer race around downtown Athens. Twilight also involves a jazz festival, a 5K run, and entertainment for both children and adults.

 

Twilight is the highest income-producing weekend of the year for downtown retailers, Lookofsky said.

 

“Although turnout will probably be a little down this year, we’re still pretty optimistic,” Lookofsky said. “For alumni, it’s kind of a spring version of a football weekend. They get to come back to Athens and have a weekend of fun downtown, with the cycling, music, and everything else that goes on.”

 

Certain roped off areas in the street where open container laws will not be enforced normally don’t hurt either, she added. Flanagan’s Bar & Grill plans to operate a beer garden in Clayton Street for the festival.

 

About 30,000 are expected to attend Twilight this year, Lookofsky said.

 

While the downtown Athens economy may not be thriving in this recession, the opening of a new seafood restaurant and the upcoming Athens Annual Twilight are some positive signs. One might call them “glimmers of hope.”

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