The Wire

  • New tunnel, premium RV section at Talladega Superspeedway on schedule despite weather

    Excerpt:

    Construction of a new oversized vehicle tunnel and premium RV infield parking section at Talladega Superspeedway is still on schedule to be completed in time for the April NASCAR race, despite large amounts of rainfall and unusual groundwater conditions underneath the track.

    Track Chairman Grant Lynch, during a news conference Wednesday at the track, said he’s amazed the general contractor, Taylor Corporation of Oxford, has been able to keep the project on schedule.

    “The amount of water they have pumped out of that and the extra engineering they did from the original design, basically to keep that tunnel from floating up out of the earth, was remarkable,” Lynch said.

  • Alabama workers built 1.6M engines in 2018 to add auto horsepower

    Excerpt:

    Alabama’s auto workers built nearly 1.6 million engines last year, as the state industry continues to carve out a place in global markets with innovative, high-performance parts, systems and finished vehicles.

    Last year also saw major new developments in engine manufacturing among the state’s key players, and more advanced infrastructure is on the way in the coming year.

    Hyundai expects to complete a key addition to its engine operations in Montgomery during the first half of 2019, while Honda continues to reap the benefits of a cutting-edge Alabama engine line installed several years ago.

  • Groundbreaking on Alabama’s newest aerospace plant made possible through key partnerships

    Excerpt:

    Political and business leaders gathered for a groundbreaking at Alabama’s newest aerospace plant gave credit to the formation of the many key partnerships that made it possible.

    Governor Kay Ivey and several other federal, state and local officials attended the event which celebrated the construction of rocket engine builder Blue Origin’s facility in Huntsville.

4 months ago

Couple creates restaurant-retail campus on Alabama Gulf Coast

(Melissa Johnson Warnke/Alabama Retailer)

It’s been 35 years since Brian Harsany got his first job in the restaurant industry, and he never looked back. Brian started busing tables and washing dishes in 1983 while in high school, and later went on to major in hotel and restaurant management at Florida State University. His degree and experience took him into management roles at various restaurants, both family and corporately owned businesses.

Then, in early 2006, everything started going to the dogs – and cats, in his case.

Several months prior to that, he’d begun developing a concept for his own restaurant. After he and his wife, Jodi, heard about a piece of property from three different friends – three days in a row – the two finally got in the car to check it out. They immediately saw potential.

613

The property was on Canal Road in Orange Beach, and the Harsanys planned to open just one restaurant, which they would name after their rescue dog, Cosmo.

“We know that everyone loves their dogs,” said Brian. “Also, the name allowed us to have any cuisine we wanted. If we had given the restaurant an Italian, French or Greek name, everything wouldn’t have jelled.”

Cosmo’s Restaurant and Bar opened in May 2006. The colorful and casual setting paired well with its large and eclectic menu, which could satisfy the palates of foodies to the pickiest of eaters.

It wasn’t long before Brian’s and Jodi’s business plans started growing along with their crew of four-legged family members. Luckily, the property around Cosmo’s afforded them plenty of space to expand.

By 2010, Cosmo’s retail selection had outgrown the space in the restaurant. That year, the Harsanys opened Maggie’s Bottle and ‘Tail, named after Maggie, another adopted dog. The gift and bottle shop is attached to Cosmo’s and sells T-shirts, jewelry, local artwork and merchandise for dog lovers. There’s also an extensive selection of wine and beer, which is available for sampling. They had a need for a venue where guests could hang out and have a drink prior to sitting down for a meal, so they added Maggie’s Parlor as neighboring tenants moved out.

In 2016 came Luna’s Eat & Drink, named after another dog, Luna, followed by Buzzcatz Coffee and Sweets. The original legal name was “Three Angry Cats,” because the Harsanys thought their cats might be angry that no businesses were named after them. However, they decided to make their “doing business as” name Buzzcatz, since “it’s catchy, fun and marketable,” added Jodi.

Jodi serves on the board of a local organization dedicated to improving the lives of animals – Orange Beach Animal Care and Control Program. She and Brian often host events at their businesses to support the group’s mission.

Jodi’s work with the animal program is just one of many community and environmental service groups in which the couple is involved.

Orange Beach City Councilman Jerry Johnson said, “No matter what it is, even if it’s the last minute – if we need catering or people to participate in cleaning an island, Brian and his team are always there. It’s really the culture they have created within their company.”

Brian agreed. “We do a lot of things with our employees in the community, so we can get them involved and they can get a good grasp on what it means to be part of a community,” he said.

They also focus on serving their employees, offering insurance, 401K plans and free exercise boot camps.

“We put ourselves in their shoes and offer them what we’d want to have,” Brian explained, adding that by taking care of their employees, they in turn take good care of their customers.

“It is vitally important that we always execute and give the experience that the guest is expecting when they step foot on our property,” Brian said.

Outside of the restaurants and businesses at the Canal Road campus, the Harsanys also own GTs on the Bay, a family-friendly restaurant and hangout on Wolf Bay, as well as Cobalt The Restaurant, which is nestled under the Perdido Bay Bridge.

“When we first opened Cosmo’s,” said Jodi, “I never imagined all of the opportunities we would have.”

Brian added, “It is our pleasure to be business owners here and to be so involved in our community.”

You can visit Cosmo’s Restaurant and Bar, Maggie’s Bottle and ‘Tail, Luna’s Eat & Drink and Buzzcatz Coffee and Sweets at 25753 Canal Road in Orange Beach; GTs on the Bay at 26189 Canal Road; and Cobalt the Restaurant at 28099 Perdido Beach Boulevard.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

7 months ago

Pitcher throws changeup, hits homerun with Birmingham’s oldest independent bookstore

(Melissa Johnson Warnke/Alabama Retailer)

Baseball is what first brought Paul Seitz to Alabama. In fact, he owns a special piece of Birmingham’s baseball history.

A native of Ohio, he was a pitcher for Ohio State University before coming down South to play professionally. In the early 1960s, he moved to Birmingham to pitch for the Barons, and Seitz was the starting pitcher on Opening Day 1964 – the first integrated ballgame in the team’s history.

567

The next year, he was promoted to play AAA in Vancouver with the Mounties. But in 1968, Alabama came calling again, and Seitz returned to Rickwood Field to play for the Birmingham A’s. By 1969, he was ready to retire from the game. He was 28 at the time and began looking for his next changeup.

While browsing through a local newspaper, a small advertisement caught his attention – an opportunity to buy a franchise of a store called Little Professor Book Center.

Thanks to the franchise’s popularity in his home state of Ohio, Seitz was familiar with the store. To him, that sounded like a good plan, and he never looked back.

In 1973, he officially opened Little Professor Book Center in downtown Homewood, in “The Curve” on 18th Street South. He spent more than 20 years at that location before moving down the street, remaining in that location until last year, when the developer sold the space.

Now, he’s moved back to the heart of Homewood, directly across the street from his original location. Since the recent move, he’s enjoyed seeing his longtime customers return, as well many new faces that have found their way through the doors.

“We get customers from as far as 50 miles away. They are book lovers, and they are what have made us be able to survive for this long period of time,” Seitz said. “We offer a good inventory and excellent book people, but what makes us successful is our readers.”

Children make up a big portion of his readership. Whether it’s required reading or for enjoyment, Seitz gives those children a lot of credit toward his business’ survival.

“In 1973, my first two customers were high schoolers. In the past 45 years, we have dealt with hundreds of schools and their students. Without those schools, we wouldn’t be here today,” he said.

Little Professor Book Center in Homewood is Birmingham’s oldest independent bookstore; independent now since the Little Professor franchise sold out in 1998. Seitz’s store is one of only three Little Professors left in the United States that are carrying on the name. With frequent events in the store, like book signings and meet-the-author nights, its popularity is holding strong, despite ever-present competition from online sellers and chain bookstores. From new releases to timeless classics, best-sellers to would-be hits, the store’s selection and employee expertise sets it apart.

“In our 45 years in business, I’ve had some of the most amazing, wonderful employees. Doctors, judges, a soprano singer, playwrights and now we have a full-fledged author on our staff. He just signed a three-book contract with Macmillan,” said Seitz.

While Seitz has slowed down in the past few years, he’s not closing the book on working in his business anytime soon.

“What’s great about having a bookstore is you never have any complaints,” Seitz said with a big smile.

“When people get a car fixed, they grimace when they hand over that money. When people buy a book, they’re always smiling. They say, ‘Thank you very much!’ So, it’s been an easy, easy job.”


Little Professor Book Center at 2844 18th St. S. in Homewood is open seven days a week – 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Visit online at littleprofessorhomewood.com.

Follow Little Professor on Facebook.

This story originally appeared in the Alabama Retail Association‘s Alabama Retailer magazine.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

11 months ago

Sweet life: Chocoholic banker saves Alabama candy store

Melissa Johnson Warnke / Alabama Retail Association

As the owner of Decatur’s Morgan Price Candy Company, Nancy Curl is a self-proclaimed chocoholic.

“We are all very much addicted to chocolate,” Curl said as she motioned toward the beautifully wrapped gourmet candies on the table next to her.

Curl shares another connection to the confection on which she’s built her business – an unlikely journey.

590

Most customers never consider that their piece of chocolate candy began as a bean on a tree. And Curl never dreamed her banking career would lead her to owning and operating a candy store.

“I’d always thought, if I were to open my own business, it would be in fashion, not candy. But I love this. It just fits,” she said.

Curl graduated from the University of Alabama in 1972, and at the time, was one of the few women in the College of Commerce and Business Administration. With a degree in marketing and a concentration in retailing, she studied under the renowned UA professor and icon in the retail industry, Morris Mayer.

“Even though I left school and went into banking, I am glad I picked that major. The mentors I had, especially Dr. Mayer, were instrumental in my professional life,” Curl said.

After decades of a successful career in the banking industry, Curl retired in 2006.

With her daughter nearing high school graduation, Curl found herself with extra time on her hands. Curl started working part time and holidays for Mary Morgan at Morgan Price Candy Company – a store she frequented for chocolate and gifts.

Opportunity crops up

Sisters Mary Morgan and Margaret Price founded the business in 1987, making candy at Morgan’s home and selling via mail order. While Price left the business soon after, Morgan went on to grow it into a successful local candy store and gift shop.

Armed with their father’s praline recipe, Morgan made her mark in Decatur selling those famous pralines, as well as peanut brittle and English toffee for nearly 23 years.

When Morgan was ready to retire, Curl couldn’t stand the thought of losing the hometown treasure.

“Small businesses were so important to me, especially this one. It was just such a huge part of Decatur,” Curl said. “People here were proud to purchase something made in their community. Someone had to step up and save it, and I knew that person was me.”

Changes yield success

In July 2010, Curl bought the business, as well as an existing building on Sixth Avenue in Decatur. After three months of remodeling and renovating the space, Curl moved Morgan Price Candy Company there and opened on Oct. 25 of the same year.

That new location, she said, offered greater visibility and helped expand her customer base and grow her business.

This marks Curl’s eighth year as the owner of Morgan Price. While the original chocolate recipes, including the still popular English toffee, haven’t changed since she took over, she has added more than 30 types of candies – including two of her best-sellers – Angel Bites and Heavenly Bits.

Curl also extended the hours, staying open later and opening on Saturdays, as well, to accommodate those who work. The store’s open footprint allows for a large gift shop selection, as well as the chance for customers to watch the gourmet candies being made in the kitchen.

The future is sweet

Today, Morgan Price Candy has customers nationwide and provides a fun place to visit and shop when visiting North Alabama. The store’s English toffee is on the list of “100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama Before You Die.”

While Curl’s journey to candy store owner was somewhat unlikely, it also makes perfect sense. Owning the business has allowed her to combine her retailing education, banking expertise and love for people and her community.

“I love spending my days here. We all say, we love working here because we feel like everyone leaves happy. And not just that … happy with chocolate!” she said.

(Courtesy of Alabama Retail Association.)