HARTSELLE, Ala. (AP) - Downtown Hartselle is going through its most significant transformation in more than two decades, with changes that include a restaurant expanding its seating capacity from 30 to 240 and the opening of a brick-oven pizzeria that will serve homemade Italian food.
It’s a shift from plans in the early 1980s when the goal was to turn Hartselle into the best antique district in the South, city officials said.
“I don’t remember a time when businesses in downtown were this diverse,” said Mayor Randy Garrison, who grew up in Hartselle.
He said Pizza Ed is opening by year’s end and the move by Bentley’s at The Outhouse to a bigger building at the corner of Main and Sparkman streets will fill a void that has existed in the business community for years.
Both restaurants have alcohol licenses and will be open “into the night hours” in downtown, but they are not nightclubs, the mayor said.
“This is a change for Hartselle and will keep people from going elsewhere who may want to have a glass of wine with their meal,” Garrison said.
Tony Sapp, who lives near the Five Points area in Lawrence County, works frequently in Hartselle and is a customer at Bentley’s.
“It’s good to have another lunch choice that’s not fast food,” he said. “Bentley’s serves good food, and I’m looking forward to the Italian place coming.”
In addition to the restaurant openings, The Something Blue Shoppe is doubling its floor space, while Life Church is doing an $850,000 renovation in the old Western Auto building it uses, and Georgia-based MEGA Granite and Marble has opened two showrooms in downtown Hartselle.
The Something Blue Shoppe has been in business almost 50 years and is a full-service bridal salon offering designer gowns and tuxedos, plus invitations and accessories. MEGA is the company that provided most of the granite and marble countertops in the new Mercedes-Benz Dome in Atlanta.
All of the projects will add to the city’s revenue base, but the restaurants are creating the most chatter in town, said Jeff Johnson of the Department of Development.
“People are excited because we’ve not had anything like this in downtown,” he said.
Jeremy Reed, who grew up in Minnesota, moved south and opened Bentley’s Burgers two years ago, which caters mostly to lunch customers.
“We’re extremely busy here and I wanted to add a bar,” he said, pointing out that the new business will be open at night.
Reed added Travis Smith as a business partner and they decided to move the business about two blocks to where an antique business had closed. He said they are adding a bar and plan to put televisions “everywhere for sports fans.”
In August, the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association selected Bentley’s as one of eight semifinalists for the “Best Burger in Bama” contest.
Pizza Ed owners Eddie and Chandra Gwin looked for seven months before selecting Hartselle.
The business will be at 305 Main Street and will feature New York-style pizza and several different types of pasta, such as fettucine alfredo and spaghetti with meatballs.
The owners said pizza dough will be handmade and hand-slapped from only fresh ingredients, and pizzas will be cooked in a rotating firebrick pizza oven.
“Downtown is becoming more than a one-segment place,” said Johnson, who worked for the city when antique shops dominated downtown. “I’ve never seen this type of diversification.”
He said the city is also completing the final phase of a streetscape plan that started in 2008. The almost $450,000 project, which includes federal and local funds, will have all of downtown in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act when the project near Railroad and Corsbie streets is complete.
Two other downtown restaurants - Cahoots and Freight House - also have alcohol licenses.
Hartselle, with a population of about 14,500, was the largest municipality in the state without legal alcohol sales until voters approved a referendum 3,801 to 3,034 on Nov. 8, 2016. It was the fifth vote on the measure since 2002.
Alcohol sales - which started in early 2017 - have produced more than $332,000 for city coffers.
Information from: The Decatur Daily, http://www.decaturdaily.com/decaturdaily/index.shtml
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