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Economic leaders: Missoula’s retail sector remains strong despite national closures

Lucky's Market latest to announce closure
Posted at 11:57 AM, Jan 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-23 19:53:03-05

MISSOULA — Despite the recent closure of several national stores in Missoula, the Missoula Economic Partnership believes the city’s retail economy remains on solid ground.

This month, both JCPenney and Lucky’s Market announced their plans to close their Missoula locations at Southgate Mall. Last year, Shopko also closed shop, ending its presence on Reserve Street.

All three closures were the result of a national trend that has seen big-box retailers struggle under the weight of a shifting economy.

“Most of what we’re seeing in Missoula is closures of national chains who have a presence here,” said Grant Kier, president and CEO of MEP. “We’re confident that Missoula remains a strong place to conduct business, but having a strong business in Missoula is not going to be enough to save a national chain.”

According to MEP, Missoula has outpaced the national average in retail growth, particularly among food and beverage stores. While the nation as a whole has seen flat job growth in traditional brick and mortar retail, along with food and beverage stores, Missoula has seen an increase in both.

In 2019, retail trade in Missoula supported more than 7,300 jobs – an increase of 3% over 2015. During that span, the nation saw a decline of .08%. Local retail workers in 2019 earned an average $31,893 a year compared to the national average of $34,025.

The figures were similar in food and beverage, which supported more than 1,460 jobs in Missoula last year. That’s up 10.5% from 2015 while the nation as a whole declined by 0.1%.

Local food and beverage workers earned an average $28,781 a year in 2019 compared to the national average of $31,452.

“When these data and the closures are assessed together, it suggests that what we’re seeing is a function of national chains being impacted by national trends, regardless of local success in Missoula,” Kier said.

It’s not yet known what impacts the recent closure of several national stores will have on the local job sector, where the unemployment rate remains in the 3% range.

Lucky’s and JCPenney aren’t the only national chains that have closed local stores. Shopko closed last March, and Pier One imports also announced its plans to close in December.

Other stores that have closed or dramatically downsized in Missoula in recent years include Staples, Sears, Herbergers, Kmart, Hastings and the Sports Authority, among others.

“Our hope is that we’ll continue to see strong growth in our local companies and that the chains that do come to Missoula are the ones that are strategic about their growth and able to sustain themselves over the long term,” Kier said.

While some stores close, others are looking to expand their local presence. Costco has purchased the old Summit Beverage property and plans to grow its current facility into the newly acquired property.

In October, WinCo Foods LLC also acquired the former Shopko property, where it plans to open a new store. Southgate Mall also has seen growth in locally-owned businesses.

Southgate Mall manager Tim Winger said the property is doing well and continues to evolve amid changes in national retail.

“We believe the decision to close Lucky’s Market at Southgate Mall is part of a larger store closing announcement impacting locations across the U.S.,” Winger said in a statement.

“While continuing to support existing tenants, our leasing team is actively pursuing new uses, which could include specialty grocery, as well as other tenancy which provides differentiated goods and services. We continue to see strong demand for space.”