Editor's note: This is the third of four stories about Shopko closing in Morris. The first two stories were published in the June 29 edition of the Stevens County Times. A fourth story on the owner of the Morris Shopko building is also included in the July 6 edition.click these links for other stories: https://www.stevenscountytimes.com/news/4635457-officials-morris-elsewhe...https://www.stevenscountytimes.com/news/4635464-building-owner-wants-good-fit-morris, https://www.stevenscountytimes.com/news/4628864-morris-shopko-close-sunday-june-23
The work started when Shopko announced its closures and it hasn't stopped, said Cheryl Kuhn the executive director of the Stevens County Economic Improvement Commission.
"The progress of filing the Shopko building and services within our regional center is on-going. We have several interested parties and will continue to work diligently to fill the gap," Kuhn said in an email response to questions from the Stevens County Times.
Kuhn said the SCEIC has reached out to several local, regional, and national retailers who could potentially fill the gap created when Shopko closed on June 23.
Filling that retail loss can be a tough challenge, said two other officials who work with economic development in two cities that have also lost Shopkos.
"(Retail) is a tough field," said John Stone, the president of the Glenwood Economic Development
"Retail, in the best of times is tough...," said Bobbi Bohlen, the executive director of the Grant County Development Corporation in Milbank, South Dakota.
Yet while officials in all three cities are working to fill an empty Shopko building with a retail or non-retail tenant, they said there are still bright spots in retail in their own communities.
Morris Area Chamber of Commerce officials released a statement that said several chamber members are looking to fill some of the retail gaps created when Shopko closed.
Joan Fults, owner of Just uS Boutique is one of them.
"I added some baby clothes and some men's, women's and children's underwear," Fults said. "I did get one style of men's shoes. I might add more."
Fults said she and other stores in Morris want to be responsive to shoppers' needs.
She knows that students in the local school's band and choir programs need black pants and white shirts so she carries those.
And while "I can honestly say that since (Shopko) closed I have seen a little bit of an increase," Fults said she is concerned that shoppers may go out of town because Shopko closed.
Jill Amundson, an associate planner for the West Central Initiative Foundation,( WCI), said the foundation is noting an uptick in sales in locally-owned smaller retail stores in rural areas where larger big box retailers have closed.
One of WCI's roles is to work with new or existing businesses in the region.
"I personally believe in the value of small scale retail stores," Bohlen said. "Our main street is pretty viable." Shoppers are able to buy books, gifts and other items in Milbank's stores.
Stone said when Kmart opened in Alexandria more than 20 years ago, the Ben Franklin in Glenwood closed about four years later as shoppers diverted their dollars to Kmart.
Today, the Ben Franklin building is subdivided into several viable businesses, Stone said.
A subdivided building with several businesses could be a possibility for a Shopko building, Stone said.
The Shopko building in Morris is owned by Carol Jean Campbell Maxwell of Lakeport, California, the county assessor's office said. Maxwell bought the property from the Gun Group Inc. of Detroit Lakes in May of 2018.
So how do economic development and other officials start to fill the gap when Shopko closes?
Kuhn said after the closure was announced, "We met with Shopko Corporate, followed by Shopko local management and finally the building owner once we knew that the Morris Shopko was closing. During these meetings we assessed the needs of the current workforce, the gap that will be left in the community by product line and identified what types of business would be the best fit."
"It all depends on who the building owner wants to work with," Stone said.
But, one goal is to learn if locals are interested in the building, Stone said. Often empty big box retail buildings can attract a local business such as a manufacturer that needs production or warehouse space, Stone said.
The Glenwood Shopko building had at least one local business that was interested but as of the end of June, it appeared there was already a buyer for the building, Stone said.
While a community may try to work with a local buyer, it doesn't mean it will ignore outside interest, Stone said.
Bohlen said she and several other economic development officials from areas that lost Shopkos approached the state of South Dakota to help with promoting the empty Shopko buildings.
The effort did not result in any interest from a retailer, Bohlen said.
A company that works with cooperative projects is still a possibility, Bohlen said.
A hurdle any buyer could face is "The cost of the property," Bohlen said. If the building is owned by someone out-of-state a community may need to explain the need to be supportive when it comes to a sale price, Bohlen said.
"We are trying to make this work with a purchase or a tenant," Maxwell said of the Morris Shopko building. As an owner, she too, wants an appropriate fit for Morris.
Economic development entities can often help a new buyer or tenant.
Kuhn said the SCEIC provides financial and technical assistance to clients.
"We primary do gap financing," Stone said. Gap financing is the loan that bridges the gap between what the borrower has and what can be borrowed from traditional financing. The Glenwood entity will also help clients with grant applications.
The WCI has some financial options available but also connects clients with other resources including the Small Business Administration, Amundson said.