Challenge posed by store closing

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Shopping alternatives must be part of any forward-facing community.

WITH ALL RESPECT for the many stores selling goods and services in the Greater Beloit community, the announced plan to shutter the Elder-Beerman department store at the Eclipse Center is a body blow.

The store - part of the large Bon-Ton chain - carried a variety of upscale merchandise and brands not typically found elsewhere in Beloit. From clothing to cosmetics and housewares to hats, Elder-Beerman offered a unique selection for Beloit shoppers and even attracted out-of-towners to bring their dollars here.

Losing that option undoubtedly will create this unwelcome outcome: Millions of dollars will flow out of Beloit.

LOOK, WE AGREE totally with Hendricks Commercial Properties' President Rob Gerbitz who said, "It's not a Beloit thing. It's a Bon-Ton thing."

The financial troubles weighing down the Bon-Ton chain of properties is well documented. Bon-Ton is not alone, either.

The digital revolution has been a relentless and ruthless disrupter across a number of industries, and traditional retailing is squarely in the kill zone. In 2016 Amazon had sales of $149 billion online. In 2017 that was projected to reach $196 billion, nearly 50 cents of every online e-commerce dollar spent.

Here's another eyebrow-arching statistic: Retail sales online are projected to increase more than 23 percent next year, probably exceeding 10 percent of all sales. As recently as 2010 the comparable figure was less than 4 percent.

As more shoppers reach for their computers to obtain goods or services - and that phenomena is increasing at an ever more rapid pace - fewer and fewer large general retailers prosper in their brick-and-mortar shops.

IN BIGGER CITIES the result is visible, and it's not unusual in prime shopping corridors to see a big empty store or two.

But in Beloit, with Elder-Beerman leaving, the problem is more stark. Elder-Beerman is the only store of its kind here, and that is more than a cosmetic concern.

Beloit has worked wonders reinventing itself and creating a more welcoming, warm presence with loads of curb appeal. Take nothing away from that effort.

Still, a full-service community capable of making people want to live here needs to offer reasonable shopping alternatives well stocked with in-demand goods.

Beyond the sheer numbers - millions of Beloit dollars likely will flow to out-of-town upscale sellers - it's a blow to community ambiance, something Beloit has seen improve each year. That's why we do not believe city officials and others who have been instrumental in the many improvements Beloit has posted can take this development in stride.

WE ALL UNDERSTAND businesses exist to make money. No enterprise is there just to provide jobs and benefits for others. No business locates somewhere just to set the right tone for a community. There must be a solid profit reason to operate.

Beloit and its surrounding environment is big enough to provide such a reason. But history shows it will take hard work to recruit and land a significant retail operator.

We think it's worth the effort, to make bringing more balanced choices into the marketplace a top priority at City Hall and with the community's developers. One unmistakable reason is to continue the exceptional improvements spearheaded by Beloit 2020 and private developers who have transformed the Beloit landscape. Attractive and adequate retail shopping options need to be part of the package.

We urge City Hall and the Greater Beloit Economic Development Corporation to approach this as a crucial challenge. Beloit cannot sit back and accept a steady stream of traffic carrying community dollars out of town.

Elder-Beerman succeeded in Beloit for many years. There should be some other company out there eager to capture those market dollars.

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