We eat gas for lunch.

The Dayton Daily (I can’t bear the idea anymore of including the word “News” with their name) tells us Chick-fil-A Express is closing downtown:

The Chick-fil-A Lunch Express restaurant at 10 W. Second St. in downtown Dayton will close at the end of business Friday, Sept. 24,

via Chick-fil-A’s downtown Dayton restaurant to close | Taste: Dayton food and restaurants.

Calling it a restaurant was kinda a misnomer- as they didn’t prepare food there- it was delivered from other outlets. It was more like a food vending cart with a roof and walls. It wasn’t that long ago that Roly-Poly slipped out of Downtown as well. So the question becomes where do all these people who supposedly still work downtown eat? And, if we filled those office buildings back up- where would they eat?

You can go to Google to find restaurants downtown as easily as I can- and there are quite a few independent, unique places left. There are also a few chains- but, nowhere near what there was in the 50s – 70s. Places like Suttmiller’s on Main which could seat hundreds, the Grub Steak just a few blocks north. Dominic’s on S. Main was another large dining room. All gone, and replaced with smaller places that seat at most 100.

What’s changed? Some companies like the Dayton Daily have their own cafeteria- which also enforces a “No delivery” policy. CareSource has a cafe which I hear is quite good (I’m no longer friends with my friend who works there). Delivery has become more common- with places like Pizza Factory running catering downtown- but, the entire business of “lunch” has changed.

Two factors seem to explain it:

We’re so car centric the idea of driving to Brown Street, or Coco’s, or points elsewhere has normalized. Note, this results in much lower productivity (even with cell phones in cars) – in that what was an hour lunch is now almost always closer to two hours by the time you figure in travel and parking. Yes folks, the end of the walkable business district has cost us in productivity.

The second factor is the “Mad Men” factor- the death of the three-martini lunch. By the mid-80s when I started my business career, the last of the cocktails at lunch crowd was still hanging on, but by 1990, you were hard pressed to even see a beer served with lunch, even if it’s a burger. Alcohol made the lunch trade desirable- and profitable. The change in the “acceptable behavior” of the “power lunch” hurt the restaurant industry and downtown as a power center.

While we’re flailing about trying to determine a way to bring back downtown of yore- maybe we should also look at bringing back the “day rate” for hotel rooms- as the mid-afternoon tryst, without worry of cars being seen together at a motel (note the last of these motels along S. Dixie and Keowee either have gone to X-rated movies in room- or closed)?

And while office spaces are being built at Austin Pike despite our huge inventory of available space, I fear that they too will find themselves hurting in the long run. When gas goes back up to $4 a gallon, and the traffic becomes even more congested as they try to head up to the Dayton Mall to eat- they’ll find that the “gas for lunch” deal isn’t all that great.

The only developers who’ve gotten the formula right are Steiner and Associates with their faux downtown at The Greene. Here is the last place where lunch and parking and shopping come together. It’s that model, and only that model that will make downtown come back. Free parking in large garages, wide sidewalks, highly visible security people on Segways and, a few places where a Martini at lunch might not be frowned upon.

And while a circulating light rail, a readily available bike share system and a unified parking rate and signage system downtown could help somewhat- unfortunately the modern lunch experience will most likely to continue with “Gentlemen (and ladies), Start your engines.”

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20 Responses

  1. Mike McDermott September 23, 2010 / 8:52 am
    Another good article. Interesting that you picked the Greene. It not only has all of those amenities that you speak of, but it located itself in the heart of the residential area that Dayton’s collapse created south of town. The businesses that left Dayton, dragged the employees and their high paying salaries along with them to Centerville, Beavercreek, etc. Smelling what’s cooking, along with taking advantage of the next to free tax structure these south of town municipalities have provided has made the Greene a viable commercial interest, worthy of future growth.

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  2. truddick September 23, 2010 / 9:40 am

    Rather than a unified parking rate, why not do what other nearby cities have done–tear out all the parking meters.  Downtown isn’t so special that they should charge a fee for what’s free elsewhere.  Of course, that will entail unemployment for the professionals who block traffic while writing parking tickets–at a saving of $60,000 salary and benefits for each.
     
    And at the same time, perhaps city commission could impress on the planners that on-street parking ought to be increased, and that streets are for transportation rather than ornamentation?  Turning left from northbound Patterson to 2nd street is now an exercise in mind-reading since motorists generally don’t know who has the right-of-way.
     
    A city that can’t get the basics right isn’t exactly inviting to businesses or shoppers, is it?

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  3. David Esrati September 23, 2010 / 10:24 am

    @Truddick- they even have meters at the Greene. Doing away with meters is DUMB. They serve the needs of short term parking- like running to the bank, or dropping something off. No meters would have people come early to get a free space- and then park in it all day- and then leave.

    We could make free scooter and motorcycle parking on sidewalks- like in Paris- to encourage more compact modes of transportation- cars take up a lot of real estate.

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  4. Melissa September 23, 2010 / 2:11 pm
    Thought the meters at the Greene were more “voluntary donations” than actual an ticket-punishment-based system?

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  5. Brian September 23, 2010 / 3:31 pm
    @Truddick, David’s right (I know, it hurts me to type it too… hahaha).    If you remove all the meters, you will eliminate short-term parking downtown, or at least force it all onto surface lots and garages.   If you remove meters, all the spaces will be taken by attorneys, office workers, bankers, etc… who park all day from 8-5.          In a proper downtown parking ecosystem, meters are used for 15-120 minute visits, and the all-day traffic uses surface lots or garages, ideally via a monthly parking pass.

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  6. David Esrati September 23, 2010 / 4:07 pm

    @Melissa- that’s a dirty little secret at The Greene about the meters- but the workers there know better, and realize that guests parking there is better for business. Since all the other parking is free- they don’t feel the need to hog the spaces.

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  7. djw September 23, 2010 / 4:54 pm
    Without taking a position on david’s proposition regarding the desirability of free downtown garages, I just have to comment on a particular oddity: ostensible libertarians who insist that parking should be free. It’s a very weird POV. What’s wrong with a market in parking, if markets are good for everything else? And why should government provide free parking, essentially forcing non-drivers to subsidize drivers? If government has to be in the parking business, shouldn’t they collect fees from users on at the market rate, rather than inefficiently forcing non-drivers to pay taxes to subsidize them?

    I mean, I can think of good reasons for non-libertarians to support free parking downtown provided by the city, but I’m at a loss to see how a serious libertarian could advocate it.

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  8. David Esrati September 23, 2010 / 6:31 pm

    @DJW- I don’t suggest free parking downtown- I said a “unified parking rate and signage system” so it was clear how much for inside and surface lots- vs meters.

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  9. Civil Servants Are People, Too September 24, 2010 / 12:38 am
    @ Interesting that you picked the Greene. It not only has all of those amenities that you speak of, but it located itself in the heart of the residential area that Dayton’s collapse created south of town.


    I’ll fix that for you….
    “… it located itself in the heart of the commercial area that urban sprawl created south of town…”
     
    To quote Jack White of the White Stripes, “you can’t take the effect, and make it the cause.”
     
     
     
     

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  10. Jeff Dziwulski September 24, 2010 / 5:20 am
    Very good observation about cultural changes around lunch.  I, too, moved to this area in the late 1980s and observed the last of the drinking-at-lunch culture, and thought it was a sign on how backwards this area was, that people were  still doing this (but also found it somewhat quaint). 

    Lack of lunch places downtown is probablya factor of lack of workers and the high office vacancy rate.  Yet there [i]still[/i] appears to be quite a few lunch spots, not really sit-down table-service restaurants, in the central business district.   Most of these close at the end of the business day.

    In-building cafeterias also may cater to office workers distate for interacting with the underclass.  One does not get panhandled if one doesn’t leave the building for lunch.

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  11. Robert Vigh September 24, 2010 / 12:34 pm
    I thought the cultural change was turning towards not taking a lunch. I very rarely take a traditional lunch. Usually, its I buy and an employee flys so I can continue to work at my desk or take emails while I eat. I do keep beer in the fridge at work and anyone is welcome to put one down! I ask my employees to work 8 hour days and they are free to take a long lunch and work later to get 8 hours or take no lunch and bolt earlier. I have found when left to the choice of the individual, lunches are usually much shorter. Solid service on carry out is our preferred lunch course.

    DJW, I am not sure what Libertarians you hang out with, but I do not know a single one that thinks parking should be “free”. I think you have something confused, because I assure you “free” parking is not in the libertarian design. Now, free parking for consumers is something a business may offer to be competitive. But, while free to the shopper, the space would still be owned and maintained by the business making it not really “free”.

    If I owned a street (which I love the idea of privatizing streets), I think I would invent a meter that took credit cards and sensed the car. This would allow the parker to stay as long as they want without a ticket and it would gaurantee that I was paid for the full usage of the space. A quick camera system would allow the pursuit and billing of people that chose to ignore the meter. Automated parking, no attendants, no tickets. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Um, holy shit that is a good idea. I could even post a sign to encourage turnover in front of a business: First 30 minutes .50, second 30 minutes $2.00, 3rd 30 minutes $10.00. As in, eat and get out so I can serve more food!

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  12. Jeffrey Dziwulski September 24, 2010 / 3:15 pm
    If I owned a street (which I love the idea of privatizing streets), I think I would invent a meter that took credit cards and sensed the car.

    I think they already have meters that take cards.  Seems sensing the car is within the realm of technical possibility?

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  13. Hall September 24, 2010 / 3:18 pm
    that’s a dirty little secret at The Greene about the meters

    Is it really ? I could have sworn I found out about this from signs on the meters themselves !

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  14. Brian September 24, 2010 / 6:16 pm
    @Hall:  it’s only a secret because most people don’t read…   :)
    @JD:  You’re right.  There are meters that take credit cards and there are also systems that include in-ground sensors to detect the cars — and clear any time remaining when the car leaves.     http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rVgE0uZQ1XE
    There are meters that call the meter maid when they’re getting ready to expire, too.   Isn’t technology wonderful?   :-)
     
     

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  15. djw September 25, 2010 / 10:02 am
    David, so you did; my mistake. Sorry for changing the subject.

    Robert, I’ve seen libertarians treat the government charging (usually below market) for parking as objectionable on the grounds that it’s just like a tax. While he changes his tune mildly when called on it, the main transportation policy writer for Reason.com bangs the drum for the government subsidy of drivers by non-drivers all the time.

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  16. Jesse September 26, 2010 / 11:05 am
    DJW,
     
    It makes sense for “libertarians” to want the economy to occur without subsidy.  However, your example of parking fees being like a tax doesn’t relate to your example at all.  How would non-drivers be subsidizing drivers via fee based parking garages?  The opposite would be more true…that with “free” parking, the non-drivers would fund the parking of drivers via taxes.
     
    That said, privatize roads and parking!  Yay, Robert!
     
    https://mises.org/books/roads_web.pdf

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  17. Greg Hunter September 27, 2010 / 9:41 am

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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  18. Greg Hunter September 27, 2010 / 9:57 am

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  19. joe_mamma September 27, 2010 / 3:55 pm
    Ahh the Libertarians….the we got here first killed the indians because they mis managed the land squatted til it became ours and then put up a fence and charged a fee….those libertarians….love em all…..  “
     
    Sorry…but that’s not libertarianism.  That’s the collusion of commerce and government…the antithesis of libertarianism.

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  20. Greg Hunter September 27, 2010 / 6:32 pm

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