Thursday, April 28, 2011

Now and Then in Orlando

Destructive creation. The replacement of the old with the new. In some quarters, such as technology, that's a Good Thing. Especially in personal computing and smartphones. In real estate and the economy, not so much.

It seems that the worst loans are made in the best of economic times. Companies, and the economy in general, will reach an economic fevered high point that seems to extend forever into the future. Based on rosy forecasts and the-then economic successes, banks forget basic banking rules and make riskier and risker loans until the bottom falls out of the general economy. Then the banks over-react in the opposite direction so fast that all those formerly rosy can't-fail businesses that are heavily leveraged do fail.

And so it was with Donatos Pizza. Donatos had expanded into Orlando with seven stores. Donatos closed them all 23 June 2008. The stores were opened in 2001 while Donatos was part of McDonalds. In late 2003 McDonalds sold the chain back to Donato's founder for a $300 million loss to McDonalds so that McDonalds could return to its core business and "improve service." Donatos continued in Orlando until the Great Recession really began to take hold. That's when the Donatos management team came to the conclusion that to survive in Orlando they needed "to build and operate more than 100 stores, which under the current growth and development plan is not prudent." And so they shut down the stores and left the shells behind.

This particular one at the corner of West Colonial and Dean near the 417 is back in business as Southern Technical College. Every one of the Donotas that I photographed as closed in 2009 are now open as wildly different businesses. It's good to see some progress back from the darker period of 2008-2009, although there's still quite some way to go in other areas.

I believe that these stores attracted new businesses because of their great locations and the excellent construction quality of the buildings.

Recycled Donatos
Now - Southern Technical College (28 April 2011)

Fifth Donatos' Empty Signage
Then - A closed Donato's Pizza (30 June 2009)

There are still plenty of former stores and buildings that stand empty from the Great Recession, such as gas stations. The former BP on Dean and 50 has had its pumps removed, and is currently being used as a car insurance/payday loan operation. There's a big sign out front on 50 proclaiming it's up for sale. The former Sunoco at W. Kaley and Tallokas Ave at I-4 has been closed since the last spike in gas prices in 2008. At the time the Sunoco station closed gas was $3.63/gallon for regular. Today it hit $3.85.

Gas stations are the canaries in the economic coal mine. They are one of the first to go under when gas prices rise. Gas stations don't make money off of gas; they make it from the stores selling soda and snacks and a small subset of groceries. When gas goes up, there's less money for people to come in and buy from the store. The higher gas goes, the less gets bought in the store, until the owners finally decide they can't make it and shut their doors. Over time you wind up with a growing collection of empty gas stations scattered around town.

Dead BP station

Another time

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