Recruit, retain retailing options

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Economic development efforts should include shopping emphasis.

AND ANOTHER ONE bites the dust, after the announcement that Beloit's Save A Lot grocery is closing its doors.

The Save A Lot brand is added to a long list of closures in recent years which includes Shopko, Elder Beerman, Staples and more. Going back farther, the closure of Beloit Mall wiped away several recognizable national brand names such as Sears and JC Penney.

Beloit has done wonders reinventing itself, particularly in revitalizing the downtown commercial district, and that success cannot be minimized. Even so, the rapid dismantling of the community's retail base has been unmistakable and is a growing concern.

NO ONE SHOULD conclude that's all the fault of indifferent leaders in either the public or private sectors. Far from it. This is a nationwide trend, particularly among larger retailers that once anchored malls all across America. Market share and profitability have been difficult to maintain for iconic brands resulting in mass store closures.

There are many reasons trends have shifted over the years. Traditional brands faced stiff competition from discounters like Walmart, eroding local options. More recently, the convenience of online shopping and front-step delivery has made it tougher for brick-and-mortar stores.

Secondary markets with smaller populations like Beloit have struggled against larger destinations like Rockford, Janesville and Madison. Now, even those larger markets are taking it on the chin. Beloit shoppers are finding more and more vacant storefronts when they travel to Janesville or Rockford.

Where all this ends, no one knows. But something significant is lost, we believe, when communities watch prime retail shopping opportunities disappear. Going shopping was more than just a utilitarian exercise; it was a social experience as well, one that helped bind together communities.

AND RETAILING IS an important part of any local economy, because every dollar spent locally for goods and services circulates and multiplies in the market.

Dollars that flow out of town, stay out of town. Those market economies are bolstered; the local economy is diminished.

There is no magic wand to wave and fix what amounts to a national trend. Yet we believe a healthy retail environment is crucial to a full-service community. That environment may be evolving into more specialty shops and fewer big-box retailers. But it's important to continue growing options for shoppers so dollars earned here stay here, and we urge public and private leaders to engage in a more focused effort.

In many ways, Greater Beloit is getting better every year. Retail needs to be part of that.

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