Malls to Mainstreet: Shifts in Iowa Shopping

Feb 25, 2016

We’re a long way from the shopping mall’s dominance of the late 80s and early 90s, but shopping still has a big effect on our culture and our economy. Dave Swenson, associate scientist in the Department of Economics at Iowa State University, says any new, sizable store almost guarantees an economic impact.

“Oftentimes, it's a zero sum game. It's very important to understand, retail serves us locally. So if something big goes up in one spot, most of those sales are going to come from all other retailers in the community. Just because you have something big come in doesn't mean the entire regional economy is going to grow."

With sales increasingly going online, or to towns 15 or more miles away, dollars may not be the only thing lost. Malls, and stores, act as community gathering spaces. Candy Evans, owner of Katy-Dids, a grocery store in Bussey, Iowa, says her store is the nerve center of the town.

“These small towns need a gathering place to come together and to share news and to share gossip, to be there for one another. I don’t think Bussey would be the same without this business.”

A shift towards the internet and away from the mall doesn’t mean all hope is lost. Richard Feinberg, professor of retail management and head of the department of consumer science at Purdue University, says only 10% of sales are done online. But that doesn’t mean stores should disregard the internet’s influence.

“You don’t have to sell anything on the internet to make it a very important strategic weapon in your business, a small business or a large business. Every store should have a compelling internet site even if they don't sell anything. Our research at Purdue shows that 75% of consumers under the age of 65 are doing research on a website before going into a store. So if you don't have a compelling website, they may not think of going to your store."

In this hour of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe talks with Swenson, Evans, and Feinberg. Hampton Mayor Brook Boehmler also joins the program to talk about shop local initiatives.