Sunday’s bloody shootout involving rival motorcycle gangs and law enforcement officers has cast a pall over business at Central Texas Marketplace, with a handful of stores still forcibly closed because of their proximity to the Twin Peaks crime scene and managers of other establishments reporting small crowds and nervous shoppers.
Still, most store officials said they do not think the marketplace at West Loop 340 and Interstate 35 now bears a stigma that will stifle traffic over the long haul.
Meanwhile, the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce fired off a message via computer to 1,000 clients in its database saying, “We’re open for business,” and industry recruiter Kris Collins said the chamber is receiving encouraging feedback from business prospects, site selection firms and real estate brokers.
“We’re trying to be very proactive in spreading the message that Waco is a safe place to be, and we’re not going to get bogged down in negativity,” Collins said in a phone interview.
Carmen Flores, who manages the Bush’s Chicken restaurant at Central Texas Marketplace, said there is no escaping the fact the shootout has had an impact.
“Oh, yeah, big-time,” she replied Tuesday when asked if the number of customers frequenting the eatery had dropped. “On Monday, we were down probably 50 percent.”
She speculated that people may have fears about visiting the scene of a confrontation that left nine people dead.
“Eventually, though, I think people will forget about it. They’ll see that everything is OK out here, and they’ll go about their business,” she said.
Jimmy Rogers, manager of Panera Bread at the marketplace, said the restaurant has suffered a double dose of reality. Business has slipped because of Baylor University students leaving the city after graduation and because of the shootout that prompted Waco police to close the entire center Sunday afternoon.
“Our first day back was Tuesday, as our bakers couldn’t get into the center Sunday night to prepare product for Monday,” Rogers said.
Rogers said customers “absolutely are talking about what happened, and some have said they are concerned about their safety and the potential for further violence.”
‘Leave people’s minds’
“I have noticed a slowdown, not just at this store but the entire center,” said Joel Boesche, who manages the Jos. A. Bank men’s clothing store at the center. “This certainly was a tragic event, but I personally don’t believe it will reflect badly on this place. As time goes on, it will leave people’s minds.”
Cabela’s Outpost and the Best Buy electronics store at Central Texas Marketplace and the businesses between them remained closed Tuesday, with police determining they represent part of the crime scene due to their proximity to Twin Peaks. The Don Carlos Mexican restaurant next door to Twin Peaks also had not reopened.
Retailers affected include the new Cavender’s Boot City superstore, World Market, Bed Bath & Beyond, JoAnn Fabric & Crafts and Five Below.
“I think it’s safe to say if these retailers remain closed for a week, the cumulative loss will top millions of dollars,” said Kelli Hollinger, director and lecturer at the Mays Center for Retailing Studies at Texas A&M University, who said she has seen “unfortunate” photos of the crime scene that included images of the stores.
“It’s going to take time for the shopping center as a whole to recover, from a business and a psychological standpoint,” Hollinger said by phone. “Some people are likely to avoid it, while some will show resilience and refuse to play the victim by visiting the center and showing their allegiance to retailers who are truly innocent.”
She added, “Something like this could have happened at any mall — small, medium or large — anywhere in America.”
Samantha Snyder, a manager at Compass Trading Co., said she has noticed a lull in traffic that she thinks will be remedied when the entire center can open.
“Business has been really rough,” said Desirea Myers, who manages the Crazy 8 children’s clothing store. “We might have had four people in the store on Monday.”
She said the company’s decision to permanently close the Twin Peaks restaurant should help the marketplace regain its momentum. Construction sites have become commonplace, with a new Haverty’s furniture store poised to open; a La-Z-Boy “home furnishings and decor” outlet going up; and lease space being prepared for a Charming Charlie.
Tony Ash, who manages Newk’s Express Cafe, echoed those who said business has been lacking since Sunday.
“I think the barricades at some of the entrances have slowed things down. I even have some staffers making loops to get into this place,” he said. “But I don’t see (the shootout) as a long-term problem.”
Waco Mayor Malcolm Duncan Jr. said, “This might be a short-term blemish, but I don’t think it will affect our long-term economic viability at all.”
He said he attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday morning for a new mattress-making plant that North Carolina-based Kingsdown will operate at 7300 Imperial Drive.
‘Too many good things’
“No one with the company said one word about the incident, and I’m sure they had heard about it,” he said. “We’ve got too many good things going on for this to affect our vitality.”
Kimberly Freeley, a spokeswoman for Retail Properties of America, which owns much of the marketplace, said by phone she would have no comment on the shootout’s impact.
Liz Taylor, director of the Waco Convention and Visitors Bureau, said, “Waco will endure with grace,” and that its image has not been tarnished.
She said she has received calls and email messages of support from colleagues and clients in the travel industry.
“From all over the country, I’m hearing things like, ‘Gosh, we love Waco, and we hope things work out for you,’ ” Taylor said.
T.K. Childers, 57, of Waco, who was shopping at Spice Village downtown on Tuesday, said she would have no second thoughts about visiting Central Texas Marketplace.
“I heard someone saying, ‘Oh, no, Waco gets tainted again.’ I say it’s time to praise law enforcement, considering how much worse this could have been without their great response,” Childers said.
Waco attorney Alan Nelson, 57, who visits the marketplace at least once a week, said he would not hesitate to return.
“I’m not going to live my life afraid,” he said. “A fight between biker gangs could happen anywhere in the state. Unfortunately, it happened here.”