ways Buford Highway is like a parallel suburban universe: It's a place
where the signifiers are familiar, but their meanings have changed.
A quick glance from the highway overpass at the familiar linear landscape,
identical to so many other motor-scapes in the ever-sprawling US, one
could assume that the area is yet another strip of Waffle Houses, gas
stations, and fast food joints. And they'd be right...sort of: the usual
assortment of strip malls and chain stores do indeed populate the area.
But the familar architecture can, unintentionally, be misleading.
Of course, one of the features of the franchise business model is the
establishment of a unique, repetitive, and easily-identifiable architecture
to ensure maximum recognizability in order to encourage habitual consumer
patronage. However, from time to time a franchise will change its conceptual
model and completely scrap it's older architecture (often nationwide)
in favor of a newer, more "up-to-date" style. We've seen Pizza
Hut, for example, lose it's family/soccer team-dining style in favor
of the more on-the-go "Express" style. Taco Bells are no longer
exclusively ersatz-pueblo. In the last ten years or so, we've seen the
proliferation of the what we call the "Ken-Taco-Fried-Chicken"
model, where fast food franchises share a space with each other or a
So, as business models change and franchise owners go out of business,
moto-consumer landscapes like Buford Highway are left with countless
out-moded yet highly recognizable shells of chain-stores. Many of these
are simply torn down either because they are thought to be too closely
associated with their former identity or to make way for new, often
equally generic developments. For lower budget, less image-conscious
new ethnic businesses, however, it makes sense to settle for a few alterations
and keep the perfectly good building, especially if expensive restaurant
equipment is already in place. In addition, many of these buildings
are sold as "retail-condos", in which the building is sold
but not the property it sits on, making it even more affordable than
building a new structure for both the landlord and new owner. This arangement
also appeals to the prediliction of entrepeneurs of many nationalities
towards actual ownership over rental of one's own building.