By John Hall, Chamber President & CEO
Watching on social media, you would believe that the Marshalltown retail landscape is collapsing and falling apart around us, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s true that over the last couple of weeks we have seen surprise closures from Papa Murphy’s and Bath & Body Works. While it’s never fun to lose national retailers, both of them had their reasons and struggled to maintain success in our market. When Papa Murphy’s first opened in our market, Hy-Vee had not begun doing take-and-bake pizzas, now directly competing. Or consider channeling those pizza dollars to our locally owned pizza places!
Bath & Body Works was the last national retailer in our mall with internal entry. This was bound to happen as that brand figures out how to operate in a world with fewer and fewer viable malls. During this same time, we have a new home-décor and clothing boutique in downtown, Real Deals, a new game store at the mall, Game Haven, and a new national chain with local ownership to buy coffee, Scooters. While the success of these businesses has yet to be realized, the value of having businesses with local ownership cannot be understated.
As we look at the retail landscape in Marshalltown since 2010, it’s clear that we have fewer physical store locations in town than a decade ago by nearly 100. During that same period, retail sales tax dollars and spending per capita have increased. This means people have more money to spend on retail and restaurants, but they are putting more and more of those resources into purchasing online. If we want to see a resurgence in our local retail, we need to see people choosing to spend their dollars locally when available. From our end we are doing what we can to spur additional retail and restaurant options through our Retail Incentive Grant. This grant awards up to $25,000 to individuals looking to open up shop here in Marshalltown. All three of the new businesses mentioned earlier are recipients of that award.
Another aspect of our retail efforts is to connect and build relationships with national brands. We have joined as a member of the International Council of Shopping Centers and I had the chance to attend their annual conference in December. This is a great way to not only see what up-and-coming brands exist, but almost all of the regional representatives are available at this conference. We were fortunate to speak with roughly 18 different national brands that have varying levels of interest in our market. Our task is to then find or build available space, which is in the works. I was also fortunate to connect with the new ownership of the Marshalltown Mall. While we both agreed that things aren’t where we want them to be, we now have some ideas moving forward that may transform the space radically from where it is at. Stay tuned.
Finally, to mention retail and not mention the restoration expected to begin this year in downtown would be a disservice. We firmly believe that by bringing about building restoration and making new retail and restaurant space available in downtown, that we will be able to attract new, vibrant businesses to our community. We are in discussions with a consultant who has this exact experience and know-how to help us achieve and realize our revitalization dream.
So, while the retail landscape may feel bleak some days, know that we are working hard to bring strong opportunities to our community. Whether it be large national chains, or small mom & pop startups, we are bullish on our market and what the residents of Marshalltown, Marshall County, and the surrounding areas can and will support. All in an effort to grow and expand our community, for we believe that “if we build it, they will come.”