Changing face of retail impacts small towns

Saturday, April 22, 2017

If you haven't noticed, the face of retail sales in this country - and in Sikeston - is changing. New technology has created an on-line shopping community that will very soon outdistance the traditional brick and mortar stores we all grew up with.

The Sears outlet in Sikeston is scheduled to shut its doors at the end of this month bringing to an end a longtime presence in our community.

But Sears is not alone. Headlines every day speak of retail establishments who have lost the battle to on-line sales and other market factors.

There's a new study this week that shows major brand names are re-evaluating their brick and mortar approach. In the past two years, 470 locations have closed including Sports Authority, Macy's, J.C. Penney and KMart. Those selective losses alone come to almost 30-million-square feet of empty retail space.

But this downsize in brick and mortar outlets puts communities like Sikeston in a pinch. Over 60 percent of our local city budget is dependent on sales taxes from retail sales.

Currently there is no legislation or measure that would allow our community to capture sales tax from online purchases.

At some point in the not-so-distant future, Sikeston must approve a use tax which will hopefully pave the way to collect sales taxes from on-line sales. About 100 of Missouri's 600 cities currently have adopted a use tax.

The current city budget shows a slight decrease in sales tax revenue for our community. With some recent construction here, the projection is for a modest 1 percent increase in sales tax collections over last year.

But this decline in brick and mortar business speaks to a larger issue as well.

What will be the face of smaller communities like ours not so far into the future? Retail sales outlets provide much needed sales tax revenues but they also provide jobs.

And if this trend continues - and rest assured, it will - the longterm future of many communities will be in doubt.

Another example.

Payless Shoes has been part of our retail community for a number of years and yet, they are about to shut their doors here. In all, 400 Payless stores will close nationwide and, unfortunately, ours is among them.

The large box stores are somewhat immune to this trend, at least for the foreseeable future. But the Mom and Pop stores who employ a handful of people are not faring nearly as well.

When a community like ours is so dependent on sales tax revenue, it's increasingly important to recognize this trend and prepare for the future.

Our local Chamber of Commerce and economic development groups are working daily on attracting new retail outlets here while they also pursue industry to provide those much-needed jobs.

But the reality - and we all know it - is that we all often travel to Cape Girardeau to spend our retail dollars because of the selection of stores, many of which are not located here in our hometown.

Any additional decline in retail sales will ultimately mean a decrease in services provided by the city. That could create a snowball effect that will not end well.

If there's any message here it is this: Support local business when and as often as you can. That dollar you are spending here assures us of adequate law enforcement and a host of other essential services.

Perhaps we cannot control the loss of a retailer here. But we can control how and where and when we spend our dollars.

Michael Jensen

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