If you want to go shop in the store that once was a Bruno’s Supermarket in Homewood, you might want to take a light jacket with you.
That’s because the space now houses Restaurant Depot, a wholesale cash-and-carry foodservice supplier with locations in 27 states. A large part of the new store is occupied by a huge cooler room where fresh produce and meats are among the items on display.
The store sells other items you won’t find in your local grocery store, like quart-sized bottles of food coloring and extracts, 10-gallon sauce pots and wooden paddles that pizzerias use to take pizzas out of the oven.
Restaurant Depot is just one of several new businesses that have opened in Homewood in the past few months.
A few doors down from Restaurant Depot in what is now called Homewood Commons, a Planet Fitness gym recently opened. Across Lakeshore Drive in Wildwood, a Sears Outlet offers a wide variety of discounted merchandise — from clothing and mattresses to washers, dryers, refrigerators and riding lawnmowers.
At the Greensprings Shopping Center, Lux Beauty recently opened in the space formerly occupied by Blockbuster. Across the parking lot, workers are busy in the former Food World location preparing it for the opening of a Mi Pueblo grocery store that is moving from a smaller nearby location.
Meanwhile, a Pep Boys auto care center has opened in part of the former Mazer’s location a few blocks away. A Fresh Market store also recently opened in the Colonial Brookwood Village complex near the Target store that started in 2013, and a Dunkin Donuts franchise was added to a Shell station.
“Right now, Homewood is booming,” says Mayor Scott McBrayer. He says Homewood’s demographics work for businesses.
“Our residents get out and shop Homewood,” he says. “It’s clean; it’s neat; it’s safe.” Plus Homewood’s location near Mountain Brook, Vestavia and Birmingham’s Southside make it centrally located for many shoppers.
McBrayer says Homewood does not typically offer incentives to new businesses or get involved with helping property owners find tenants. If a business contacts city officials about finding a spot, they do help them.
The Homewood Chamber of Commerce is active in promoting the city to potential businesses. “We are very aggressive in getting businesses interested in coming to our community,” says Tricia Ford, executive director of the chamber. “We are always on the outlook for businesses to add to the retail mix.”
Ford is pleased with the businesses that have come to her city recently. “I am excited,” she says. “We’ve been working on it for a very long time. We make Homewood business-friendly.”
The Homewood Chamber works with property owners to help attract tenants to the city’s shopping centers. Ford says the chamber helped owners of the former Wildwood North center rebrand it as Homewood Commons and are involved in talks with other prospective tenants to fill remaining spots in the center, including the space recently vacated by Old Navy.
“We take advantage of everything that comes our way,” she says. “A lot of our ‘gray field’ areas don’t stay gray very long.”
Ford says the Homewood Chamber also works to promote other businesses in the city, including the numerous hotels and restaurants, and works with Samford University and other entities like the Shades Valley YMCA as well. Homewood has the largest concentration of hotels in Jefferson County, and she says the chamber is working to help attract more conventions.
McBrayer believes the growth of businesses is due at least partly because of the city government’s attitude toward business. “We’ve kind of got a one-stop shop,” he says. “You’re not waiting on inspectors and permits to get open. … I tell people, ‘When you’re ready to open, call and we will have an inspector there.’ ”
He says, “Businesses want to be in Homewood. … We are open for business.”
McBrayer says a review of the city budget and finances presented to the city council earlier in May showed sales tax receipts were up about $600,000 over the same period last year. The increase in revenues is important not only to the city but to the Homewood City Schools, which receives one cent of the city’s sales tax.
He chuckles when he says he knows that businesses in downtown Homewood are doing well because most of them close at 5 p.m. If they weren’t doing well, they would be open longer hours.
McBrayer says sales tax receipts had gone down during the economic slump, but Homewood has managed to average $1 million in surplus revenues each year since he became mayor in 2008. The money has been saved in a rainy day fund that now totals $11 million. In comparison, the city’s general fund budget is about $46 million.
Homewood uses property tax revenues to fund capital improvements such as the recent $400,000 renovation of Patriot Park off Oak Grove Road. McBrayer says that project was part of an overall effort to renovate the West Homewood area.
The city council recently voted to rezone business areas on West Oxmoor Road, and plans are underway for a $5 million project to completely revamp West Oxmoor from Greensprings Highway to the Barber Dairy plant, he says.
“We are working very hard to revitalize that area,” Ford says.
McBrayer also points to recent improvements in the city’s bond ratings. Both Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s have raised the city’s rating to AA+. “It shows investors that Homewood is a good place to invest in,” he says.