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Development council works to increase retail options in Hall County
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According to U.S. Census Bureau population estimates, Hall County’s population grew from about 139,000 in 2000 to more than 187,000 in 2009.

With the population growing by leaps and bounds over time, local officials have been working to make sure infrastructure keeps up with demands.

Over the years, new schools have been built, water and sewer services enhanced and roads have been improved. Despite all of those accommodations, there is one area where Hall County hasn’t been able to keep up with the growth — retail options.

“There are a lot of under-retailed areas throughout Hall County, but it’s most pronounced in Gainesville and South Hall,” said Tim Evans, Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce vice president of economic development. “Based on our population, general merchandise, furniture, entertainment, restaurants and movie theaters are just a few of the areas where we are under retailed.”

According to the chamber, the county’s retail options are about 25 percent to 50 percent from where they should be.

“Specifically, we’re missing some of the high-end retail options that many people in Hall County are looking for,” Evans said. “They’re filling that need by going to Mall of Georgia or the outlets in Dawsonville. That’s retail leakage — real dollars that Hall is losing”

To correct the shortage, the Gainesville-Hall County Economic Development Council has taken on the mission of retail development and recruitment. In order to bring in new retailers, council members have surveyed existing businesses to see what drew them to the area.

“We have to communicate to (potential retailers) that our primary trade area is larger than just Hall County, it stretches across a 14-county area,” Evans said.

The terrain of North Georgia’s mountains may draw tourists to the area, but it also can interrupt development, which can be a boon to businesses in Hall.

“For instance, if you live in Blairsville, the closest PetSmart is on Dawsonville Highway in Gainesville,” Evans said.

Retail corridors along Spout Springs Road in Flowery Branch and Dawsonville Highway in Gainesville continue to be regionally popular, but chamber officials say there is still lots of room for growth.

With the help of developers like Pacolet Milliken, who plans to build a 460,000-square-foot retail and commercial space near exit 24 on Interstate 985, Hall County stands to regain some of its lost customers.

“In the past, we have been a major retail center,” Evans said. “We saw some of that slipping away with the development that has been going on around us, but we have an opportunity to become one again. We have the opportunity to once again become a real destination for shopping.”