While Moulton’s downtown square still has a void created by an April fire, an area 2 miles north continues to expand as a commercial hub in the town of about 3,500 residents.
Of the four businesses devastated by the April 22 fire, at least two plan to relocate on the square, one has relocated in an establishment nestled between downtown and Highway 157, and the fourth remains in limbo.
The Willow Tree, an antique collectibles and artisan boutique that was displaced after the fire, reopened on Court Street near Ink & Thread printing company and doesn’t plan to return to the square.
“Business has been great,” said Willow Tree owner Craig Johnston.
He said the business reopened with more showroom space, a larger coffee shop, new additional vendors, more parking space, and a larger collection of furniture and artisan items.
The Willow Tree, which was once housed in the building adjacent to Wilkerson Diamonds on the Moulton Square, lost its structure to the fire along with Tucker’s Accessory Tire and Auto, Dejà Vu Salon and Court Street Grill.
Owners of Tucker’s Accessory Tire and Auto, Quinton and Kelly Terry Tucker, said they are able to operate at some capacity as they wait for construction to begin at their former business site.
“We can still sell tires, but we can’t put them on,” Kelly Tucker said Monday. “We are planning to reopen at the same location. We’re hoping to start construction in a month—sometime around the last of September.”
The Tuckers, who were also living in an apartment above their shop, said it could take about six weeks, depending on fair weather conditions, to rebuild their work and living space.
“They’re calling it a barndominium,” Tucker said, which is a metal building that can be transformed into a modern living space.
“The biggest part of the project will be in laying the concrete slab,” she said. “We’re doing a metal building. The (Moulton) building inspector said we could rebuild with our apartment and continue to live there.”
Tucker said her husband will continue to take business calls at 256-606-1939 as they await construction.
“We’ve missed our customers,” she added. “We’re looking forward to being back in business with our customers new and old.”
Moulton Building Inspector Renay Saint said Dejà Vu hair salon also plans to return to the square, and has opened a temporary location on Alabama 157.
Salon owner Tina Morgan said construction should begin after a survey is completed on the former business site.
“I’m not sure when the construction will start. I will know as soon as we get the survey done but I’m hoping we’re back down there by the end of the year,” she said.
The only business damaged by the fire that hasn’t reopened is the Court Street Grill. Arthur Moss, owner of the restaurant, said he is looking at three options for reopening.
He is considering opening a restaurant in the 5,000-square-foot basement below ground at the former site with an additional patio-type eating area above ground. His second option is to build a smaller steakhouse and Italian bistro above ground with a 12-foot-wide walkway that adjoins the back parking lot with Court Street on the square.
Moss’ third consideration is to open a reservation-type diner Thursday through Saturday with six vendors offering differing cuisines.
“We are looking at the plans and hope to start on the construction work by next spring or summer,” he said. “I am targeting to be open with something there by the end of 2020. I will make the front of the building appear as it did in the 1940s so it won’t be out of place.”
The 90-acre Moulton Courthouse Square Historic District has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1998.
As Moulton’s historic downtown recovers from the April devastation, five businesses representing about 60 jobs have located or made plans to locate near the busy intersection of Alabama 24 and Alabama 157 in recent months.
Domino’s Pizza announced last week it will become the latest addition to the service, retail and restaurant businesses at the Forum Shops complex adjacent to Walmart at the intersection.
Moulton Mayor Roger Weatherwax said the availability of retail space and a strong economy are the driving factors for the increased business activity.
“They see a potential over here for growth also,” he said.
DAKS Inc., of Decatur, is the Domino’s franchisee bringing the city its first pizza delivery business.
“We chose this prime location because it’s all about visibility and convenience for our customers and our drivers,” said Joe Broadfoot, director of the central region for Domino’s.
The restaurant will be between Cato and Dollar Tree.
He said Domino’s in Moulton will employ about 25 people, including about 15 drivers. He said DAKS is uncertain when the restaurant will open and what the range of the delivery area will be.
“We want to be open by the end of the year if not sooner,” he said.
Broadfoot said DAKS, locally owned and operated, has 10 stores in Texas, and Moulton will be the company’s 12th store in Alabama.
Construction of a deluxe car wash, Shine Time Super Wash, is also underway across the parking lot from Walmart. The car wash’s managing partner, Mike Reiney, said he plans to employ eight to 10 workers and it should be open by late fall.
Saint and Weatherwax said the fire has not pushed Domino’s or other businesses to locate in a different commercial center.
“(The car wash and Domino’s) weren’t the type of businesses that would want to locate on the square,” Saint said. “They may have looked there, but they are best suited for a place out on the highway.”
Fourteen months ago, Vanessa Morris, a leasing and brokerage agent for Southeast Commercial Realty of Birmingham, began marketing five vacant units in the Forum shopping center totaling 14,000 square feet. Now the center is down to one 2,000-square-foot vacant site.
She said she helped lure Hibachi Buffet, the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce and future tenants Domino’s and Tobacco Plus to the shopping center. The restaurant and chamber office opened there in late 2018.
Wally’s Tobacco and Vape opened in recent weeks next to Plaza Bonita Mexican restaurant.
“The location has high traffic volume,” she said. “The economy is good. Most everything locating here is 20 to 30 minutes away in other cities, and it’s an attractive shopping center.”
She said the smaller businesses at the intersection are in Walmart’s shadow because it’s the primary draw for shoppers.
More than 22,500 vehicles pass through the two state routes daily, according to 2018 data from the Alabama Department of Transportation.
“This property is an addition but not a competitor to Walmart,” she said. “They won’t be competing with Walmart.”
She said Walmart’s restrictions on competitors at the site have kept the Forum Shops from filling. Morris said a lender and bank wanted to locate in the center, but because Walmart has Woodforest National Bank in its store, the businesses are not allowed to open there.
Other businesses that have located in Moulton recently include Bankhead Motors, owned by Scott Woodruff who specializes in car sales, trades and consignments. Woodruff will also have a detail shop and boat storage and will be opening soon.
Dollar General, which opened within Moulton’s Police Jurisdiction in June, is also located on Market Street as it turns into Alabama Highway 33 in the Wren Community.