Building a Healthy Retail Community: Lessons from Two Towns
David L. Darling
Retail trade is a dramatically dynamic sector. One major trend is the consolidation in the sale of everything from toys to fabrics. Currently, Wal-Mart dominates the competition in the general merchandising retail sector. Due to consolidation, small towns have lost retail services to larger towns. The only retail services that are sure to stay are those that provide a product which is bought based on the customers' desire for convenience. In fact, research by the author has found that there is a high level of dissatisfaction with local stores and shopping ( Coulson and Darling 1996). Thus, many rural and small-town residents are interested in the issue of retaining retail services.
This chapter examines two similar-sized towns in central Kansas that have diversified retail sectors. One retail sector is strong, while the other town's is weak. The author compares the two towns and contrasts them using a number of characteristics. From this analysis, it is possible to explain why one town outshines the other. Next, the author presents important lessons that can be learned in this case study. Finally, an economic development model is applied to the retail trade issue to provide some prescriptive advice.
The primary and traditional role of the retail sector is to provide goods and services to a local customer base for their convenience and at a reasonable price. Customers expect most of their household needs to be met locally, and the