A friend sent me a photo the other day of the new Chipotle restaurant in Inverness that looks close to opening.
“The chairs are out!” she wrote.
I stared at the photo.
“Am I supposed to be excited about this?” I texted her.
“I am!” she responded with a goofy cartoon smiley face.
Chipotle is the latest big-name chain to call Inverness home. The local eatery it replaced, Joe’s Family Restaurant, is reopening on U.S. 41 at the Inverness Middle School road.
Commercial growth is off the charts in Citrus County. Everywhere we go more land is being cleared for a shop, restaurant, plaza, or mega center.
At what point does the luster of new shiny stuff wear off?
Or, to use an analogy, at what point do we hit 20 minutes?
That’s the length of time between sitting down to eat a meal and the point when I start to feel full. Twenty minutes. Doesn’t matter how fast I eat or what’s in front of me — steak or ice cream — 20 minutes and I’m getting in my first sigh of the meal.
Think I’m making this up? It's on the Internet. It has to be true.
You get the idea. So here’s the question: Is our small-town fascination with the latest big-name chain starting to wear thin? Have we hit the commercial growth buffet line one too many times? Are we at 20 minutes yet?
When Just Wright Citrus first reported in January 2022 that Target was coming to Lecanto, the place went bonkers. We’d been hearing that Target rumor off and on for over 15 years and now that was a real deal, the public opinion dam burst and out flooded gratitude that an actual chain was coming to Citrus County.
Someone loved us. Not just anyone: TARGET. The one whose corporate heart we’ve sought for so long.
When other names started rolling in for that Lecanto corner — Texas Roadhouse, Aldi and a few others — we were thrilled with the attention of all these suitors.
Same for Chipotle in Inverness. Apparently, it has many fond followers, as my friend will attest.
In recent weeks, though, I’m sensing a public opinion shift. Just as we’re seeing large communities unite against rezoning for residential development, the public is losing interest in commercial growth as well.
Residents are getting that deer-in-the-headlights look with each new announcement of another shopping center. It was fun at first but now it’s not letting up, or so it seems.
So when the opposite happens — Aldi notifying Inverness it is dropping plans for a store there — we’re all wondering what that’s about. Everyone wants to come here. Why did Aldi commit and then pull back?
A few possibilities:
— Businesses are souring on Inverness. That seems unlikely. The city government is very open and welcoming to businesses (citizens think perhaps TOO welcoming).
— Aldi soured on the location. Also unlikely. Forest Drive at S.R. 44 is one of the city’s busiest intersections. New apartments are a 10-minute walk. Whispering Pines Park is right across the street.
— Aldi decided Inverness was overkill. There’s some logic here. Aldi has a store in Dunnellon and is building one in at the C.R. 491/486 intersection in Lecanto. Inverness and Lecanto are about 10 miles apart. Lecanto is clearly becoming THE retail/restaurant hub in Citrus County.
— Not sure how this would fit into Aldi’s decision, but it’s possible the tide of public opinion is turning. Not against Aldi specifically, but the idea that things are happening awfully fast and roads aren’t keeping up.
We’ve been booming for about two years; it seems hard to believe the public has soured that much on growth already. Especially since most of the big commercial stuff is still under construction, so their impacts are guesswork at the moment.
Citrus County commissioners are noticing. Zoning cases that were dime-a-dozen approvals in recent years suddenly find themselves up against commissioners who are seeing beyond what’s in a report.
This board has said no to storage facilities in Lecanto, saying they’re not a good fit in a growing community.
And the county is working on a rule that would require mini-warehouses and car washes to go through the planned unit development (PUD) process. What that means is fewer car washes and storage units; who’s going to complain about that?
Developers aren’t dumb. They know when the public says it’s had enough. Unlikely as it is that we’ve reached that point, we’ll be able to tell whether Aldi-Inverness is an anomaly or trend.
That 20-minute mark is coming, and the meal has just begun.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.