Big box store closings.
That topic was the focus and primary concern covered in the first East Roswell Economic Development Forum held Wednesday.
A recent string of retail store closures in the area has caused some residents to worry about will become of the vacant buildings. An estimated 400 people packed into the East Roswell Recreation Center, with hundreds more viewing a Facebook live stream.
In June, the Kohl's at 2342 Holcomb Bridge Road shuttered "as part of a belt-tightening effort by the retailer to prune under-performing locations," The Atlanta Journal-Constitution previously reported.
The Super Target at 2600 Holcomb Bridge Road, in the East Village Shopping Center, closed at the end of January. The Rack Room Shoes in the same complex is scheduled to close Saturday, with a spokesperson citing "the closing of other retailers in the area" for its demise.
Council members Marcela Zapata and Mike Palermo were among those who discussed the economic outlook for the eastern end of town at the meeting. A representative of Roswell Inc., the city's economic development agency, was one of the panelists.
While some fret that East Roswell will become a sea of empty strip malls, Palermo seemed optimistic about redevelopment.
He pointed to Connexion, a shopping center on Holcomb Bridge, as a redevelopment success story. Tenants include Kale Me Crazy, Starbucks, Taqueria Tsunami, Foundation Social Eatery and J's Wine. Circle Noodle and From the Earth Brewing Company are planned to open there in 2017.
The recent closings create “the opportunity for us to work together on encouraging more office space and destination type businesses,” Palermo said in an email.
The term “destination business” — meaning places that will attract people from other parts of metro Atlanta — was used a lot during the town hall.
Zapata showed attendees a video of a Wal-Mart that was transformed into a library.
Not because the area needs a library, he said, but to inspire everyone to “think outside the ‘big retail box.’”
“With imagination, with hard work, and good design, you can come up with magnificent things,” Zapata said.
Anyone living or owning a business in Roswell is invited by city officials to complete an East Roswell Vision Survey online during February.