There’s no progress in retail either

Where have all the customers gone? Try Auburn

Where have all the customers gone? Try Auburn

Wal-Mart has been cleared to begin construction of its new “superstore” in Auburn, which figures to drain substantial retail dollars from western Nevada County when it opens in 2015.

Right behind it is Costco, now slated for a site next to Home Depot. Then there’s the constant rumor that Trader Joe’s is seeking a suitable site in Grass Valley’s neighbor to the south.

These developments don’t sit well with Jeri Amendola, economic development coordinator in Grass Valley. “We get no benefit from it,” she told The Union last week. “Our dollars will be leaving more now.”

It is estimated that Nevada County losses $200 million in retail sales annually to Auburn, Roseville and other cities outside the county, which decreases tax revenue collected by the cities and county.

“Every time this happens, it will affect us to a greater degree,” Amendola said. “Now the leakage will be at our back door.”

So what have Grass Valley, Nevada City, and the county done to reverse this trend? Well, basically nothing.

Grass Valley hired Chabin Concepts of Chico to survey 600 Grass Valley residents and conduct three focus groups in July to learn their feelings about western Nevada County’s retail environment.

“Unanimously, everybody surveyed said J.C. Penney and Kmart are not providing the kind of merchandise they want,” Aubrey Taylor of Chabin told the city council. Those surveyed wanted to see a Target in the community.

So what did the city council do? It asked Taylor to tell both chains to shape up, and instructed city staff to:
–Work with agencies to use the survey results to foster economic development;
–Produce an economic strategy to better enable the city to qualify for grants.

Right, that will do the job.

J.C. Penney could very well be in a death spiral. It lost $1 billion on a 25 percent decline in sales last year, and reported a loss of $586 million for its most recent quarter ended Aug. 3.

Kmart has been gradually losing market share since its acquisition by Sears Holdings Corp., known for operating on the cheap. Sears spends one-third of the industry average on store maintenance and upkeep, which helps explain the bedraggled appearance of the Kmart store in Grass Valley.

Neither chain is likely to listen to anybody from around here, and we don’t have the population density to justify another Target store so close to the Auburn outlet. Calling on the usual alphabet soup of suspects will just give the appearance of action to people who aren’t really paying attention. What will the city use grant money for? Conduct more surveys that tell it what it already knows?

A skeptic (I’ll raise my hand here) might conclude the city is more interested in protecting the entrenched retail interests than offering a better shopping experience to area residents. Here’s what the city should be doing:
–Survey retail real estate specialists here and down the hill to identify chains that would be attracted to what we have to offer;
–Put together a sales pitch and go after them.

The other alternative is to erect a toll gate in the southbound lanes of Highway 49 at the Bear River to capture some of those dollars fleeing the county.

The result can’t be any worse than what we’re getting now. Like the weather, everybody talks about the retail problem but nobody does anything about it.

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