Thursday, May 12, 2011

Who Moved My Chipotle?

In my hometown of LaGrange, Illinois, something curious has happened. The (and one can only presume based on dozens of visits) fabulously successful Chipotle branch in the heart of our downtown moved…approximately three blocks away. Now while this would not seem to be of particular consequence, there are some extenuating circumstances behind the move:

• It moved to the “other” side of the tracks. While the original location was directly across from the commuter train stop, the new location is a block or so North, at the intersection of the two busiest roads in town.

• It moved, very ironically, into a recently closed Baja Fresh location. Yes, it was pre-wired for burritos but the next logical question follows…why exactly did this Baja close?

• It moved to a location with parking, though shared with Walgreens, Caribou and an AT&T store. The parking is certainly a plus over the sometimes “impossible to find a space” downtown location.

So, you ask—what’s the problem? They stayed in the hood and added parking. Let’s examine the other side of the ledger:
• The new location feels (and almost certainly is) smaller. Seating only is for around 50 (at best). Worse, there is no separation between the seats and the line so there is a decidedly uncomfortable feel while queuing or eating. While we have been in tighter Chipotle spaces, the old space (long, with high, exposed ceilings and real character) had a significantly more pleasant feel and atmosphere.

• The old Chipotle was incredibly popular with the teenage crowd. Along with Starbucks a block or so away, it was the de facto hangout in town. Who wants teens hanging around? As long as those teens have money (which the La Grangian version most certainly do), why not. This location is not nearly as central to the walking crowd which is a significant part of downtown traffic, particularly during the (admittedly rare) nice days of Chicago.

In all, a curious move. Could the addition of parking trump all of the other negatives? Was the landlord simply impossible to deal with? We’ll find out. We suspect that business will be down but maybe Chipotle’s magic trumps even a bad real estate play. While we are huge fans of Chipotle, we are once again reminded that all retail is local--while they are winning big time on a national scale, this might be a local loss.

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