Richard Shaw remembers the 1950s clearly.
The Gainesville native said Lake Sidney Lanier was just beginning to fill up, the downtown Gainesville square was actually a circle and the Washington Square plaza was a bank.
Over the years he watched the bank on what is now 130 John W. Morrow Jr. Parkway disappear and a shopping plaza be erected.
He also watched as Washington Square sat nearly vacant for the last several years. But as a new tenant, he has a close-up view of the shopping center coming back to life.
Seven weeks ago, Shaw opened Rick’s Smoking Pig BBQ in the plaza.
Although the plaza had many empty storefronts when he moved in, Shaw said there were several reasons he decided to settle there.
“Because of the proximity to the mall, I thought this would be a good location,” he said. “Also, there aren’t any other barbecue places close by, so there aren’t any direct competitors — I tried to put myself in the center of that doughnut hole.”
Shaw said he also bet on the volume of traffic along the parkway in front of the plaza and foot traffic flowing from the adjacent Dollar Tree, a longtime tenant, as odds the location would be a good one.
“So far business has been excellent, we’re showing a lot of growth,” Shaw said. “We’re almost at the break-even point where we’ll start seeing a profit. Considering we’ve only been here for about a month, that’s really good.”
Since opening in April, Shaw has seen several new tenants join the team, including the Save-A-Lot grocery store, which re-opened a couple of weeks ago after being shuttered for several years.
Jody Rogers, owner of MVP Sports, also recently joined the Washington Square family.
After purchasing the Suwanee-based business in September, the Commerce native said he decided to branch out and open a second location in Gainesville. The plaza’s proximity to Gainesville High School and its many sports teams made it an attractive choice, Rogers said.
“We’ve been open for (about a month) and business has been pretty good, considering it’s what I call the off season,” he said.
In the fall, Rogers said he hopes to increase traffic to his store by offering spirit wear catering to the local school teams.
Although some may question opening a business during an economic downturn, Rogers said there are some businesses that can survive despite certain conditions.
“People are always gonna have their kids in sports — even in a recession,” he said. “Business hasn’t been as good as it would’ve been if we weren’t in a recession, but we’ll be here when things turn around.”