Editor’s note: This is the first in a three-part series about the retail challenges faced by Sturgis.
STURGIS — Future retail growth in Sturgis may have to come from within the community, say local leaders.
Sturgis City Manager Daniel Ainslie and Amanda Anglin, executive director of the Sturgis Economic Development Corporation, attended a national retail conference last spring, but soon realized bringing retailers to Sturgis was an uphill battle.
Top of their list at the convention was finding a retailer who might want to locate in the 30,000-square-foot vacant Shopko building in Sturgis. Shopko closed its Sturgis location in June along with hundreds of other locations across the region.
In the past year, 11 new businesses have started in Sturgis and that may be the way the community grows its retail, Anglin said.
“They (the new businesses) are all small entrepreneurs that want to contribute to the community. I think more of that versus a big national retailer is maybe more realistic for our community,” she said.
Part of the challenge facing Sturgis is that it is situated between two retail hubs – Rapid City and Spearfish.
“When I talk to national retailers, they tell me that we are too close to Rapid City and Rapid City serves our trade area. They are not willing to take that risk, so I think that risk is going to have to come from within the community or area,” she said.
Surveys have shown that Sturgis has significant leakage of certain business sectors to other communities, many of which had been served by Shopko.
Both Anglin and Ainslie said the Sturgis Shopko did very well as a branch of the national chain, but when the parent company filed bankruptcy it brought down all of its locations.
Retailers that do operate in Sturgis seem to be doing well. Sales tax receipts for the past year are up.
The community and surrounding Meade County continue to grow. As of October, the county had $19 million in new construction permits and the city $17 million
Anglin said she went into the RECon event with high expectations based on information she had read online.
“They made it sound like this was a great conference for networking and making deals,”
Anglin said she worked hard at getting appointments with retailers on site at the convention, but soon realized that was easier said than done.
“They were all full is what they told me,” she said.
And the number of retailers at this year’s convention was done markedly, Anglin said.
“We did stop at a lot of the booths, but the answer always seemed to be ‘we’re not moving to that area,’ or ‘you’re outside of our growth zone,’” she said.
Anglin said the constant rejection was disappointing, but as an economic development professional, she knows to move forward hoping at some point that “no” can be turned to a “yes.”
Her first RECon conference was certainly a learning experience.
“I had high hopes that we could just pop into a wide variety of retail booths and have conversations with people, but that was not the case,” she said.
Anglin said the in future years she and Ainslie may look to attend a more regional conference which focuses on retail business.
Anglin reminds people that retail shopping in brick-and-mortar buildings is not dead.
“Studies show that online shopping drives in-store shopping and vice-versa,” she said. “The amount that people spend in a given timeframe is pretty similar in either direction.”
Today’s consumers want a different shopping experience, Anglin said.
“They are wanting more one-on-one customer service experiences,” she said. “The boutique shopping is becoming popular. Maybe that’s what people are gravitating to. They want more of an experience rather than just walking into a store and picking something off a shelf.”
Whereas in a boutique, you are going to customize your looks and have more of a personal shopping experience, Anglin said.
Knowing what people want in retail is a moving target, but Anglin said she will continue to zero-in on that target.
Coming tomorrow: Sturgis City Manager Daniel Ainslie talks about the challenges of shedding the “Rally Town” reputation.
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