Jan. 23--Memphis International Airport will lose some of its signature aroma with the Feb. 28 closing of an Interstate Bar-B-Que outlet in the food court.
Interstate and Starbucks are cutting back because of flight reductions, airport officials said Thursday. There will still be two barbecue restaurants, Corky's and another Interstate, and three Starbucks.
Vendors have bailed out of the once-bustling airport as flights dropped to 92 a day in December from a high of about 300 a day in the early 2000s.
"It costs me more to be there than I'm bringing in in sales," said Memphis-based barbecue entrepreneur Jim Neely, whose original airport offering, a takeout window, expanded to the food court in 2004 and a full-service restaurant near Gate B14 in 2005. "I have another restaurant within 100 yards, and we don't have the capacity of passengers to warrant two restaurants being that close."
Airport board member Ruby Wharton said the airport was losing part of its identity. "We're known for barbecue, so that's not good."
The closings come amid hopeful signs -- moderation of historically high airfares and increasing numbers of locally driven airline trips -- tempered by uncertainty over whether Delta Air Lines Memphis service has hit bottom. Delta had 49 daily flights in December, down from nearly 240 for Delta and Northwest combined in 2008.
Memphis has gone from a top five highest fare airport nationally to top 10, an improvement, but "still one graph we don't want to be on," board chairman Jack Sammons said.
Memphis logged a 14,000 increase in local passengers in the last half of 2013, compared to a year earlier, vice president of finance and administration Forrest Artz said. Officials credit the arrival of Southwest Airlines with boosting fare competition and attracting local business.
Copyright 2014 - The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tenn.
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