By Brian Silberberg
Returning Grinnell students may have noticed the buzz of construction going on outside Wal-Mart upon their arrival this semester. The midtown construction is part of a concentrated effort to woo new retailers to town, specifically for unexplored niches and gaps in the available shopping options the town offers.
Angela Harrington, President of the Grinnell Chamber of Commerce, said that the impetus behind bringing the center in was to stop so much money from flowing out of Grinnell and to attract retailers selling national brands. The per-capita spending of the town is low and bringing in more shops not only helps alleviate this issue, but also can help make Grinnell more of a regional hub. She noted that while Grinnell is home to well-liked local stops like Bikes to You, there is a dearth of national brands here.
“We need the individuals and the entrepreneurial startups, and the unique and unusual businesses, but there also has to be room for franchising,” Harrington said.
She went on to note that Grinnell had much more positive growth in retail sales in the last few years than its peer cities. Additionally, Grinnell was the only such city to have job growth in the last year.
When asked about specific stores and brands to expect, Harrington commented that they were seeking out GameStop and were highly interested in getting clothing stores, although that might be harder since Grinnell is not a “one size fits all” market.
Harrington stressed that the Chamber of Commerce had made no attempts to bring in a Starbucks, that Starbucks had made none to them, and rumors on campus regarding one coming were unfounded. She went on to re-emphasize that the retail center was about bringing in what the town doesn’t have, and that shops like Saints Rest were not about to face unexpected competition.
Student response has varied on the project.
“I’m glad they’re trying to bring in more options, especially for clothes, there isn’t really a lot of choice as is,” said Ellie Garza ’14.
Not all students think this way.
“I kind of like that there aren’t big brands, it helps keep the small Midwestern town feel,” said Taylor Wright ’16.
Harrington encourages students to shop more locally and to utilize the shops in town, instead of immediately going online or elsewhere.
“Get out and explore this town,” Harrington said. “When I have talked to seniors, most of them aren’t aware of 95% of the goods and services offered in this town.”
Harrington said she expected construction of the two building structure to be done in 60-90 days, and for an 80% occupancy rate to be reached within two years.