Times They Are a Changin’
I was at the gym the other day and a couple next to me were having a gloom and doom conversation about the sad state of affairs in our community. “All” the stores are closing, “everyone” is losing his or her job, “everyone” is moving out of state. What? “Wait a minute!” I jumped into the conversation. I couldn’t bear to let them continue down this road of negative misconception. While the community is most certainly experiencing change, it’s definitely not all bad. I realize there are significant job changes recently that affect many families, some in genuinely devastating ways, and my heart goes out to those families. But in reviewing the community as a whole, we need to look at the big picture, and while there is certainly change taking place, much of it is necessary and good.
As of this writing, Spring 2018, nationally, retail is experiencing a seismic shift. Online shopping and other changes in the way people shop won’t “kill” retail, but it will change the face of it. These growing pains will probably be uncomfortable, especially for shopping center owners, sales tax recipients, and anyone who counts on things being done the same way they’ve always been done.
Yes, Eastland Mall feels a bit like a ghost town these days, but few people understand the time it takes to negotiate new leases and complete construction, especially when re-development or changes in the use of space are involved. Negotiations can take years, and in the meantime, the vacant space accumulates and makes the center feel empty. New types of tenants bring new challenges, further delaying the signing of leases while tenants, developers and attorneys hash out new lease language that the old boilerplate lease didn’t address.
But in spite of all this, remember Lakewood Plaza ten years ago? There was barely a car to be seen in the parking lot. The space now occupied by Hy-Vee stood vacant for years, and smaller retailers struggled to generate traffic without the benefit of an anchor store. Today, Lakewood Plaza is vibrant and full.
How about Colonial Plaza with the old K-Mart, which has now been re-invented as Empire Crossing. For many years, the vacant square footage outweighed the occupied space. But today it is full of retailers who are new to our market, with more development and growth underway.
Portillos. DSW. Ross. Just to name a few who wouldn’t even have considered our market a number of years ago.
In looking at some of these momentous changes in the retail market, we can’t forget the employment that drives it. While some companies are reducing and streamlining, other new companies are locating here and creating jobs. Rivian, Brandt and American Precision Assemblers are all new to our community within the last two years, and according to the Bloomington-Normal EDC, these three companies alone expect to create 850-1000 jobs between them over the next several years.
Change is difficult. It creates unknowns and generates fear. But it also creates opportunity. Opportunity to try something new, or to stretch the comfort zone. Opportunities for people who find themselves suddenly retired to create new small businesses and live out passions. Opportunities to develop new ways of doing business.
The world is changing, and our little corner of the world is changing with it. This can sometimes seem overwhelming and threatening, but change is a necessary part of growth. Marie Curie said “I was taught that the way of progress was neither swift nor easy.” Neither swift nor easy? Of all people, you would think folks at the gym would understand that.