As a Decatur City Councilman, I can certainly understand the concerns of local citizens in observing the growth of empty retail store fronts and other empty commercial buildings throughout our community, the situation also deeply distresses me as well as my fellow council members.
What has been happening in our community over the last several years with the increasing number of empty retail store fronts in our community only mirrors what has been happening across other Central Illinois communities and elsewhere throughout our nation.
In the April 23, 2018, edition of the Bloomberg Businessweek Magazine an article entitled “Retail’s Real Estate Glut is Growing” points to the data from the CoStar Group, Inc. that states that since the beginning of 2018, “At last count, the U.S. store closures announced this year reached a staggering 77 million square feet.” Those store closures were only for national and regional retail chain store companies, and the number does not include local independent owned retail store closures across the nation.
The article goes on to say that a record 105 million square feet of retail space was made available with store closures in 2017 and that retail companies were well on their way to surpassing that record in 2018.
There are several key reasons for the demise of the traditional brick and mortar retail store fronts in our community as well as across the nation over the last several decades.
Many national and regional retail/restaurant chains overbuilt retail outlets starting in the late 1980s and 1990s which oversaturated the retail landscape with more outlets chancing after an every changing customer base so many of these outlets are being closed. Although competition is always good for the consumer it is not always good in the retail business especially if financially weaken retail companies can’t compete in the present retail environment.
The onslaught in the growth of online businesses over the last few years has done considerable damage to national, regional and local traditional brick and mortar retail outlets and unless local owned retail businesses can find a product niche that is not already being filled by the growing number of new online businesses local retail businesses as well as national and regional chain stores will continue to suffer from the lack of a customer base.
The development of shopping malls in the 1970s and 1980s did considerable damage to downtown retail business environments throughout the country, and with the growth of online businesses they are not only having a major negative effect on malls but also on all brick and mortar outlets.
The recent announcements that the Fairview Plaza Kroger's store and the Pershing Road County Market store were closing was not good news for the community nor for the citizens who relied on those stores for their grocery needs but be assured that staff within the City of Decatur’s Economic Development Department will work with the developers of those two properties to help them secure new tenants. Hopefully another national or regional grocery chain will find the two locations attractive to do business.