Local support determines business survival

I’m gonna miss Shopko. Not that I shop there often, maybe once or twice a month. But I know it’s a store that has things I need in a pinch that I can’t easily obtain elsewhere in town. I always end up spending more than a hundred bucks per trip. While their selection is small, it’s been steady over the years. Things like printer ink, dry goods, everyday clothes, toys, bedding, kitchen items and electronics. The store and its predecessor Alco had those items.

Those of you who jump at the chance to run to Grand Junction to buy things might scoff. But I hate having to do that. I don’t need a big selection, I just like things to be handy. And Moab lacks having a good selection of stuff.

A recent business summit in Moab confirmed that fact, and that our community is losing economic potential because of it. There aren’t enough everyday necessities available on local shelves to keep people from driving hundreds of miles to spend their money elsewhere.

This newspaper is also going to miss Shopko; the retailer has long been an advertiser with its regular coupons and inserts. Advertisers like Shopko are keeping journalism alive. Every traditional advertiser that goes out of business or chooses to not support their newspaper of record is a loss to journalistic efforts to deliver the news and keep an eye on governmental bodies that spend tax dollars, set policy and modify codes.

Many people simply don’t care about that dilemma, nor do they care if local businesses keep their doors open. Moab folks have long made it part of their retail and medical rhythms to do business out of town. They buy their groceries and see their doctors, dentists, nail techs and hair stylists in our neighboring state or along the Wasatch Front. That ends up undermining local companies that want to provide those services here.

While growing up here in the ’70s, my family was not that way. We visited Grand Junction very seldom, perhaps once or twice a year when we went on a ski trip or needed to buy a tractor implement. Of course it took a little longer to travel to Grand Junction on the two-lane road back then, before the interstate offered smooth, wide cruising spaces. My folks believed strongly in buying their goods where they paid their taxes, and to give back to the businesses that supported their business. One good turn deserved another, they said, and it’s what kept a town well balanced.

But recent numbers prove what we have long held: Moab doesn’t have an adequate selection of essential provisions to keep shopping dollars at home.

When I moved back home to Moab more than 20 years ago, after going to college and taking a 10-year newspapering job in Park City, one of my biggest concerns was adjusting to reduced retail options for my little family. My young children were 4 and 1, my husband worked out of town multiple days a week, and I was employed here at the paper. I didn’t have time to drive across the state line to buy things.

But the same week my young family packed up and moved from Park City to Moab in 1997, a national retailer—Alco—announced it was opening a store in the old bowling alley. I was relieved! Between the lone grocer, various mom and pop shops, and Alco, I could stay home to shop. I would, after all, be able to buy more than our tourist town’s offering of tee-shirts and Teva sandals.

But things have changed over the years. People are now doing a lot more shopping online. Just as in the news business, traditional ways of running stores are being worn away by changing habits. Quite often, people would rather reach to their computers than the business down the street. There again, I’m just the opposite. I loathe shopping online. I want to see things in person, touch them and check the quality. I also dislike all the waste that comes with getting deliveries: the boxes, the packaging, the returning of items that aren’t quite right. To me it’s a hassle.

People’s choices and behaviors will guide the future. Shopko faced national economic challenges, and when the corporation declared bankruptcy several weeks ago, I breathed a sigh of relief that the Moab store, more viable than others such as the one in Blanding, would stay open. But we soon learned that it would also be closing.

We as a community played a part in that company’s failure, as we do in many businesses that seek to serve residents and visitors. Local support will determine which businesses continue, and which will no longer exist.