Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Truly Dark Stores

Local leaders have been fretting lately about what they call "Dark Stores"--where a big box retailer challenges their property tax assessment by comparing their open store to what a closed big box somewhere else in town is assessed at and arguing--usually successfully--that their property holds the same value.  But it is entirely possible that more City Halls will be dealing with actual "Dark Stores" in the future.

JC Penney is the latest major retailer to announce plans to shut down hundreds of stores nationwide.  Oshkosh lost its Penney's a few year ago--and while the store at the Fox River Mall is not included in this round of closures the writing is likely on the wall.  The same goes for Macy's, Boston Store and Sears--all of which face the very real possibility of closing up all of their stores.  Take a look at the "anchors" of both the Fox River Mall and the Bay Park Square Mall in Ashwaubenon--what would be left if those stores were to shut down?  One need only look at the former Aviation Plaza here in Oshkosh--which continues to sit vacant and crumbling after losing a Walmart, a JC Penney and a grocery store.  Or how long it has taken to "repurpose" the old KMart/Sears on Koeller.

Even mighty WalMart has started to close underperforming stores.  Target is doing the same.  Green Bay-based Shopko is putting more emphasis on its "Hometown" concept that places smaller stores in smaller towns with less competition from other retailers and the main cause of Big Box decline: internet shopping.

The expensive brick and mortar store locations--with rental charges, property taxes, large staffs, huge inventories and the cost of transportation to get goods to them nationwide--are becoming less and less the place where Americans buy their stuff.  For many shoppers now, the store is the place to try on clothing, test the softness of bedding or bathroom items, view a big screen tv or listen to headphones in person--before walking out, going home and ordering the same exact item to be shipped to your house over the internet.

If you notice, more retailers are putting computers and Ipads in their locations so that they can capture more of that "try in the store, order on-line at home" spending.  Better to have your website in front of them than to let them Google search for the same item at a cheaper price.  But that eliminates the need to have ten of every item in every size in stock, or people to man registers or unload trucks--and it certainly doesn't require football field sized stores in which to operate.

So what do cities do with cavernous buildings and sprawling parking lots in the post-Big Box-Internet-Shopping Era?  And how do they replace the service jobs provided by those retailers?  It seems to me that "forward thinkers" would spend more time worried about that right now--than the assessments on what are quickly becoming dinosaurs.

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