More choices, meal tax could be to blame for Richmond restaurant closures

Posted at 6:53 PM, Sep 21, 2012
and last updated 2012-09-21 18:53:39-04

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) - For diners it's a tough pill to swallow. Many Richmond restaurants, both landmark and little known eateries, have locked the door and turned off the lights forever. We wanted to find why "Closed" is appearing on the menu as the "not so special of the day."

Diners in metro Richmond are noticing big changes on the culinary landscape. Several long-time and even new eateries and watering holes are disappearing. Familiar names like Byram’s, Bills Barbecue, Stronghill and Sensi have all closed in the last several months.

David Bateman from Baltimore laments the loss of Bill’s Barbecue after 82 years. “It’s been here forever. I ate here with my grandparents and parents.”

Nancy Thomas President of Retail Merchants Association says the Restaurant business across metro Richmond is cyclical and can be cut throat and competitive.

“They have to be smart about it because if they stay open they’ll put themselves in a bigger hole financially. Anytime you have a business that is closing it is sad, but when it’s time to close it is time to close,” Thomas says.

Radio host, Al Coleman opened Big Al’s in the west end of Henrico County five years ago. Coleman says the seven day a week job can be a grind and money pit. Coleman can see why some owners throw in the towel.

“There a lot of Richmonders who like to think and buy local so they help keep us in business,” Coleman say. “You have to really mind what you’re doing or you won’t be in business much longer.”

Dr. David Urban with VCU’S school of business says diners are enjoying more choices in the counties to spend their scarce discretionary income. Not to mention the eleven percent meals tax on each bill in the city.

“The restaurant business is such that you’re only as good as your last meal. It is tough here in Richmond if you’re local and trying to compete against the national chains,” Urban says. “You don’t have to come to town to get a really good restaurant meal.”

Back at Big Al’s, the owner says he realizes nothing lasts forever, but he’s doesn’t plan on going anywhere anytime soon.

Coleman says, “When you have a good customer base. Good people to come in that helps tremendously so I plan on being here for awhile.”

On Friday, we learned another long time eatery is closing. Shackleford's on Ridgefield Parkway in the West End will close in October after 19 years of serving customers. While we have seen a number of restaurants shutter in the recent past Nancy Thomas with the Retail Merchants Association emphasizes that many new restaurants have opened to much fanfare all across the city like Berry Burke 525 and Pasture.