Shop Around: Census gives retailers key data

March 26, 2010 

Want to shop at a Whole Foods in Forest Acres? Costco in Village at Sandhill? Pottery Barn on Harbison?

Filling out your Census 2010 form - or any other surveys from the U.S. census - could be your small contribution in helping bring them here.

"This is the prime opportunity to really get those types of retailers in your area," said Marianne Bickle, chairwoman of the retailing department at USC. "This is a way to enhance your community."

Shoppers have been wondering for years why Greenville and Charleston have certain stores that Columbia doesn't.

Nearly 1,500 people have joined a Facebook page started in February asking new owners to bring nice stores to Midtown at Forest Acres. They are calling for Marshall's Homegoods, Dean and DeLuca, Pottery Barn and even Nordstrom's and Restoration Hardware.

While some of the suggestions might be far-fetched for Columbia, others seem more realistic, retail experts say. But those retailers need accurate information about an area before they can make a decision to put a store there.

Whole Foods Market, for example, uses information it can get from the census, such as population density, education and income, in making decisions about where to locate, spokeswoman Elizabeth Smith said.

The company - which is currently not planning to locate in the Columbia area - also considers other factors, such as cost of real estate and interest in natural and organic foods.

"No one factor is most important," she said. "The right combination is key."

Businesses look at census data even down to a block level sometimes, regional census spokeswoman B.J. Welborn said.

"Some of them have criteria for a certain amount of population that they have found improves their chances of succeeding," she said.

But there are other forms mailed periodically to households throughout the year that are perhaps more important to business owners than the actual count, S.C. census spokesman Terry Plumb said.

The American Communities Survey is mailed to 250,000 households a month and offers a more detailed picture of the community on a more frequent basis than the once-every-10-years census.

The surveys give much more detailed information on areas such as income and whether residents rent or own their homes.

"That would be more useful," Plumb said, to a business looking to locate a new store.

Conrad's coming to Devine Street

A new restaurant opening Tuesday at the old Tiffany's Bakery spot at 2865 Devine St. will serve American cuisine with a French twist.

The restaurant is owned by Conrad Hutto, a Savannah River Nuclear plant retiree whose passion always has been cooking, according to his son-in-law, Michael Joye, who will help run the restaurant with his wife, Mandy.

The space was most recently home to Granville's restaurant, which closed after just a few months last year.

On the menu at Conrad's will be items such as Asian collards, a fried black-eyed pea fritter and a classic rib-eye, all cooked by chef Randy Niswander, who is moving to Columbia from Michigan.

The restaurant also will serve Lola's Lovin' Pound Cakes with sauce or fresh fruit, made by Irmo baker Laura Scudder.

Most entrees will range from $12.95 to $17.95. Small plates - bigger than an appetizer, but smaller than an entree - will range from $5 to $9.

Joye said he hopes the neighborhoods around Devine Street will embrace the new venture, which will be open for dinner six nights a week and plans to offer a Sunday brunch in the fall.

"We're trying to be that neighborhood restaurant," Joye said.

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