Athens Restaurants not Recession-Proof


Athens Restaurants not Recession-Proof

 When reaching for the door handle of Harry Bissett’s New Orleans Café on Broad St. in downtown Athens, the salivating customer is no longer greeted with the overwhelming smell of crawfish etouffeé and seafood jambalaya, but with something that is not nearly as exciting or satisfying to the senses.

Plastered on the inside of the window is a sign that reads, “The property of this premise, being used in operation of Harry Bissetts, has been secured by Athens-Clarke County tax commissioner” due to delinquent taxes.

“Everyone is just heart broken over Harry Bissett’s closing,” said Thomas “Rusty” Heery, owner of Heery’s Clothes Closet and Chair of the Athens Downtown Development Authority. “That’s the one that really got everyone’s attention. It’s been open for over 20 years and is an old favorite.”

Athens isn’t the only city with hearts breaking. Long-standing restaurants have been closing throughout the country with no warning given to their devout customers. South Florida has watched many of their favorite restaurants close the past year such as Las Olas in Fort Lauderdale, Try My Thai and Bavarian Village in Hollywood, Fl.

Even Las Vegas, the city that never sleeps and  money is thrown around like candy, is seeing their restaurant industry in a slump. In 2009, the taxable sales from restaurants in Clark County, NV were down 6%.

Despite the popular claim that college towns are recession-proof, the restaurants in downtown Athens have been in a steady decline. Starting in the beginning of last year, Athens has said goodbye to many of its local eateries including Mean Bean Taco Shop in Five Points, Zim’s Bagel Bakery and Café on Alps Road, Angelo’s Italian Restaurant on Clayton St. and Cookies Co. & Café on the corner of College and Clayton, due to the downward-spiraling economy.

 “ We just weren’t getting business like we used to,” said Lauren Willson, a senior publication management major at the University of Georgia and former employee of Cookies Co. & Café. “People weren’t spending their money, so we weren’t making any.”

The New Year hasn’t brought much luck or change for the restaurant business. Harry Bissett’s closed January 1 due to the inability to pay their taxes, along with The Georgian Southeastern Chophouse located in The Georgian Hotel on Washington Street, which closed after Valentines Day.  

“The Chophouse was very expensive and it’s hard to throw out that much cash for a meal when we’re in a recession,” said Allison Blake, a graduate of UGA and resident of The Georgian Hotel.

One place that is not suffering from the recession or their pricy menu is Porterhouse Grill on East Broad Street. Porterhouse Grill is an upscale steak house, which could be the reason it has survived the contagious downfall of restaurants downtown said Rob Longstreet, the General Manager at Porterhouse.

“ We are the strongest we have been in the past three years,” Longstreet said. “We have a great location and serve fine dining, so we really haven’t been affected at all.”

Dining-out seems to be the first place people are cutting back, especially in college towns. Porterhouse might be filled with students splurging on Valentine’s Day or Formal night, but overall they serve to an older, more financially comfortable audience.  When students have the option to buy a cheeseburger and fries off the dollar menu at McDonalds or get a free meal from a campus-dining hall, it’s hard to persuade them to spend $25 anywhere on stuffed trout and a salad.

“Due to the economy, I really don’t have a lot of extra spending money,” said Cassie Pleat, a senior management major from Destin, Fl. “The first thing I did to save money was stop eating out. If you’re eating out five or six times a week, it really adds up.”

The restaurant industry everywhere has taken a hit since the start of the recession. Enjoying a good meal at a favorite restaurant is not necessarily a necessity, but rather a luxury that people have chosen not to indulge in. Nowadays, people would rather have a full wallet than a full stomach.

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