Will online shopping replace retail stores in the Bloomington-Normal community?
Exactly one year ago Tuesday, national department store Sears filed for bankruptcy, and within a month, the Sears in Eastland Mall went out of business.
According to CNBC, more retail stores filed for bankruptcy in the first four months of 2019 than those that filed in all of 2018.
The Sears in Normal was home to appliances, tools, an auto repair shop, apparel and various home goods.
While department stores like Sears, Macy’s and JCPenney are quickly disappearing, Spokesperson for Eastland Mall Katharine Wells said the market for other retail, dining and fitness spaces is increasing.
“Department store closures give us the opportunity to recapture prime real estate and bring uses to the property that we previously hadn’t had the space to accommodate or that previously had not considered a mall environment,” Wells said.
“A perfect example is turning the former JCPenney into Planet Fitness, H&M and Outback Steakhouse,” Wells continued.
Wells said 90% of retail sales occur at physical stores and encouraged consumers to consider popular online shopping platforms, like Amazon and Glossier, that opened physical stores to drive sales.
Though Eastland Mall can recover from retail crises like bankruptcies by converting empty space for new businesses, retail jobs dropped from 9,700 in 2017 to 9,300 in 2018, according to the Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council.
Despite the loss of industry jobs, Bloomington-Normal and McLean County retail sales totaled about $2.5 billion in 2018, an increase from 2017’s total sales, according to the EDC.
“The EDC of the Bloomington-Normal Area grows the local economy by assisting with local business expansion, recruiting new businesses and companies to the area and encouraging the next wave of entrepreneurs to establish their business here,” the EDC website states.
The EDC also reports annually on Bloomington-Normal’s top employers. State Farm, Illinois State University, Country Financial, Unit 5 Schools and OSF HealthCare are listed as the top 5 employers in the area.
Retail jobs make up about 10% of total non-farming jobs in Bloomington-Normal, according to the EDC.
As the holiday season approaches, Wells said Eastland Mall will be opening more seasonal stores including the Bavarian Almond Kiosk, Hickory Farms and Go Games & Calendars.
Though online shopping may seem to be replacing businesses in Bloomington-Normal, Forbes ranked Bloomington-Normal as one of the top 25 best small places for business and careers in 2015.
“The industry is going through significant changes, but all of this activity provides us with an opportunity to bring in new uses and retailers that are in-demand and growing,” Wells said.