ARCHIVED  November 1, 1997

Northeastern communities seek to retain retail dollars

When Horace Greeley proclaimed, “Go west, young man,” little did he know that shoppers in the Northeast Plains would continue to heed his call, though not exactly as he intended. If you live in Fort Morgan or Brush, for example, you head west to Greeley to fill your closet, your home or your belly. Sometimes you head south to Denver. If you live in Sterling, however, shopping opportunities are increasing, necessitating fewer trips west.
"We˜re booming," proclaimed Pam Gumina, assistant to the Sterling city manager.
Added to several business expansions in recent years will be a new 2,500-bed state prison, which will open in the next year and create 850 additional jobs.
Given the growth, many different retailers and developers are looking at the Sterling market. They˜re interested in building restaurants, department stores, specialty shops.
Sterling — a hub in northeastern Colorado for shopping and services — has a well-rounded slate of retailers that draw customers not only from the surrounding area, but southwestern Nebraska as well. Retailers include J.C. Penney Co. Inc., Sears, Sound Town, KNB Electronics, Harold˜s Menswear, Expressions, Beaumonde, Crown House Hallmark and Barn˜s Pharmacy.
As additional retailers open in Sterling, Gumina said the city would like to fill available retail vacancies first. The old Kmart building is standing empty, as it has for several years, as is the former Woolworth˜s store downtown.
"Our vacancy rate is actually shrinking. I˜d say it˜s under 15 percent," she said. "For a small town, that˜s very good."
New commercial development also is beginning to happen, however. A real-estate development team of Steve Watson and Scott Mueller, going by the name Solid Sterling, is looking at a major commercial development at the Interstate 76/Colorado Highway 6 interchange, Gumina said. The development may include hotels and restaurants as well as other commercial offerings.
Travel south on I-76 for about 30 to 45 minutes and you come to Brush, a quiet community of 5,000 waiting to be discovered.
"Our needs are many," said Cathy Smith, city clerk for Brush who also works on economic development. She would like to see apparel stores, a shoe store, even a kitchen/cooking store locate in this farming community.
Such stores, she said, could help keep residents from making that westwardly trek to Greeley or from heading south to Denver.
Smith realizes that Brush is not high on anyone˜s list when it comes to a shopping destination. She would like to change that by having a major retailer locate at the I-76 interchange. Her first preference was Cabela˜s Inc., but she was told the company is happy with its Nebraska location that draws shoppers from hundreds of miles.
Continuing south from Brush on I-76 for another 15 minutes, you come to Fort Morgan, from which residents continue to head out of town to shop.
"It˜s just very easy to travel. Going into Greeley or Denver after work is not a big deal. As they go in for major events, they also spend time shopping," said Cathy Shull, executive director of the Fort Morgan Area Chamber of Commerce.
Fort Morgan merchants stress personal service. "We know the people who live in town," said Shull, who noted that in a recent chamber survey, 88 percent of the respondents said they check local merchants before going out of town. "I think that˜s a real good thing," she said.
Fort Morgan is home to a variety of retailers, many who prefer the ambiance of a tree-lined downtown. J.C. Penney, True Value Hardware, apparel shops and restaurants are joined by the museum/library complex, a variety of banks, including Key Bank, which opened a branch about four years ago, and the U.S. Post Office. Fort Morgan still has a downtown movie theater and has a thriving drive-in movie theater as well.
"Fort Morgan is actually compact," said Sandra Scneider Engle, city progress director. One stop puts you in easy access to retailers, utilities, banks, government buildings, etc.
One of the last empty downtown storefronts was recently taken over by Rae Ellen Windsheimer who, along with her mother, Chris Hobbs, owns and operates Kidz on Main. The two originally opened the shop two years ago at a strip center some blocks from the downtown hub and jumped at the opportunity to relocate to downtown.
"I see more walk-in traffic," Windsheimer said. And the large display windows, she added, allow her to showcase more of her merchandise.
The city of Fort Morgan also is trying a few things to encourage residents to shop Fort Morgan first. City officials are looking at fixing up the vacant city hall building downtown and moving part of the city˜s offices back there from its location about seven blocks off Main Street.

When Horace Greeley proclaimed, “Go west, young man,” little did he know that shoppers in the Northeast Plains would continue to heed his call, though not exactly as he intended. If you live in Fort Morgan or Brush, for example, you head west to Greeley to fill your closet, your home or your belly. Sometimes you head south to Denver. If you live in Sterling, however, shopping opportunities are increasing, necessitating fewer trips west.
"We˜re booming," proclaimed Pam Gumina, assistant to the Sterling city manager.
Added to several business expansions in recent years will be a…

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