SHEFFIELD — When Gary Monroe and Wade Baker opened Champy’s Famous Fried Chicken on Second Street in Muscle Shoals, some people questioned why they located a restaurant off the beaten path.
Maybe they should have located in Florence or on a busier road in Muscle Shoals.
Instead, they chose a site on a segment of Second Street just off Woodward Avenue that’s known for being one of the bumpiest roads in the area.
But that short section of Second Street is seeing a rebirth that Monroe and Baker want to continue.
“The thing’s a jewel,” Monroe said of the stretch of Second Street that runs between Muscle Shoals and Sheffield. “It’s right in the middle of the Shoals area.”
Discount Dan’s Home Improvement Warehouse opened on Second Street in the old Marvin’s building, and local builder Robert Eaton opened a cabinet shop showroom on Second Street.
Both of those businesses are in Sheffield.
And while Champy’s is technically in Muscle Shoals, Monroe said he and Baker plan to add another unique eating experience across the street, in Sheffield.
“What we envisioned when we brought Champy’s here was something totally different and unique from anything around here,” Monroe said. “My partner and I see the opportunity to do something real neat. We’re doing it for the people of the two counties.”
Monroe said that part of Second Street was attractive because of the cost of property. While there are numerous empty buildings in downtown Sheffield, Monroe said they are costly to renovate.
“You have to spend so much money to get the buildings where they have to be,” he said.
Downtown Florence is already developed and parking is at a premium.
What Monroe envisions are unique businesses that are unlike anything else in the area. He notes that the Shoals has unique restaurants, such as Ricatoni’s in Florence or the Rattlesnake Saloon on Alabama 247 in rural Colbert County, but they’re spread out. They aren’t concentrated as in one area like downtown Nashville near the river or Beale Street in Memphis.
Monroe is quick to add that they’re not trying to create another Beale Street, but rather create something unique for the Shoals.
“When you point your car to that part of Second Street, we want you to feel like you’re somewhere else, like
downtown Nashville or downtown Memphis,” Monroe said.
Monroe and Baker have purchased an empty cluster of buildings across Second Street from Champy’s. The largest building is the former home of Big Bear Audio.
They’ve replaced a portion of the roof and will continue to upgrade the building and
finish the work to coincide with work that will be
done on Second Street in 2013.
Second Street between Jackson Highway and Woodward Avenue is scheduled to be resurfaced next year and striped as a wide, three-lane road with a center turn lane, Sheffield Mayor Ian Sanford said.
A new asphalt surface will replace the concrete road that runs from Jackson Highway to near Woodward Avenue.
Sheffield applied for grant funds through the Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program, or ATRIP. Sheffield will match 20 percent of the project and the Muscle Shoals City Council has agreed to cover the cost of renovations to the part of Second Street that lies in their city.
Sanford said the project should be sent out for bids early in 2013.
While Monroe does not want to get into specifics of his and Baker’s plans for the building across from Champy’s, he said it will be something different, possibly a seafood place on the order of something you’d find in Key West, Fla.
Baker came to the Shoals from Memphis and has a background in the restaurant business.
He said he and Monroe want to create a unique experience along Second Street, with people being able to move between Champy’s and whatever they develop across the street.
He said Champy’s is not a beer joint, but a restaurant that maintains a family atmosphere even though they offer adult beverages.
Beginning on Thursday nights, it’s also the host to a variety of Shoals music.
Sanford said there is other property that could be developed along Second Street, either in existing buildings or lots where buildings could be torn down to accommodate new construction.
“I think we could find some property there if somebody else is interested,” Sanford said.
Muscle Shoals Mayor David Bradford said the city helped the Champy’s owners by allowing the Fire Department to burn down an old house on property that is now a parking lot.
“We did a training exercise on a house they bought,” Bradford said.
He said the city also helped the owners develop entrances and exits to the new building and added new curb, gutter and sidewalks in front of the business.
The city also has worked
to keep rights of way cleared along Second Street
and encouraged businesses to maintain their property.
“We’ve put new welcome signs at different points
of entry to Muscle Shoals,” Bradford said. One of
those signs is near Champy’s.
“I think Sheffield is trying to move in the right direction,” Bradford said. “It’s a place where we could work together on a couple of things.”
Russ Corey can be reached at 256-740-5738 or russ.corey@TimesDaily.com.