Growing Pains

Retail Market Study proposes
tools for expanding, improving
Jefferson County economy

By Don Ward

MADISON, Ind. – (Sept. 2002) John Bohman and his brother, Joe, have operated Pride Supermarket in Hanover, Ind., for the past 15 years. It hasn’t always been easy keeping the doors open, but they’ve persevered while other businesses have not.
In the mid-1990s, the Bohmans weathered the opening of a Wal-Mart Supercenter 10 miles away in Madison. They’ve endured competition from a Dollar General Store that opened two years ago just up the road. They’ve seen their lunch crowd dwindle with the recent opening of a McDonald’s restaurant, a Fast Lane BP convenience store, Chicago’s Pizza and Subway Sandwich Shop – the latter two located just across the street.

Madison Main Street

Madison's Main Street

In each case, the Bohmans have adapted by finding new ways to serve the community’s grocery needs and still make a profit. But for how long?
“What we need is a big industrial-type business to come into Hanover and provide more jobs, then we will have more people moving here,” John Bohman said. “When people live locally, they shop locally. And it would mean more growth, creating a bigger tax base for the community.”
Bohman isn’t optimistic that will happen anytime soon. But he’s keeping a cautious eye on a recently released Retail Market Study of Jefferson County that examines the current inventory of goods and services, and projects what types of retail stores are needed to keep residents shopping locally.
The $30,000, year-long study, chaired by Madison City Council president Jim Lee, was commissioned by the Collaborative Marketing Project of Jefferson County and conducted by an Atlanta-based consulting firm, Marketek. Half the cost was paid for by the state Commerce Department’s Community Planning Fund; the rest came from the Lilly Endowment and Indiana-Kentucky Electric Corp.
The consultants surveyed more than 3,000 people in the county before compiling a 176-page report, including recommendations, which they presented in late June at a community forum at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds.
Like most local merchants, Bohman is aware of the study but knows very little about its purpose or what’s in it. And like most local merchants, he missed the forum and knows only what he read in newspaper reports about it.
“I’ve heard that the report refers to Hanover as a bedroom community of Madison, and I wasn’t real thrilled with that description,” Bohman said.
Dennis and Estelle Anderson, who moved from Texas to Madison two years ago and opened Cover to Cover Bookstore on Main Street, say they, too, have heard about the study but know little about it. They say their business has done well, but they feel isolated from tourism and chamber activities and have begun communicating more with other downtown merchants to explore ways to strengthen their visibility with tourists and local residents.
Anderson sees the Madison Business and Professional Association as perhaps the best hope of getting more business owners involved in efforts to generate more traffic downtown.
“I haven’t seen the results of the study, but I heard there was a comment made about Madison needing a book store,” Anderson said. “Well, we’ve been here two years now, and we still have trouble getting people on the hilltop to come downtown to shop. What’s it going to take?”
The Andersons say they would welcome the opportunity to learn more about the study and its potential impact. “We are interested in what’s going to be done about it and by whom and when – and does it include us?”

Shaping a vision for the future
The Collaborative Marketing Project began in 1999 as a community approach to dealing with a variety of issues facing the county. It has drawn representatives from city and county government and 66 commercial, educational and nonprofit organizations. The Retail Market Study was only one of many efforts conducted by the project, which is funded by both public grants and private donations. Other efforts have involved tourism, historic preservation and economic development, to name a few.
After three years of monthly meetings and committee work sessions, the project is winding down. But project coordinator Ann Grahn says the work will continue to implement the new ideas that have resulted.
“This is an ongoing thing; it doesn’t stop here,” said Grahn, a native of Bryn Mawr, Pa., who retired to Madison in 1987 with her husband, Doug, after a long career as a scientist in Washington, D.C., and later Chicago.
Since her arrival in Madison, Grahn has become involved in several local organizations, eventually becoming the first director of the Community Foundation of Madison and Jefferson County. She left that position in 1996 to head marketing efforts for the Madison-Jefferson County Industrial Development Corp. In that capacity, she organized the Collaborative Marketing Project. In January 2000, her efforts earned her the prestigious Community Service Award, presented by the Madison Area Chamber of Commerce.
In what has been hailed as the first-of-its-kind analysis, the Retail Market Study was presented to more than 100 people, including state agricultural officials, by Marketek researchers, Mary Bosch of Portland, Ore., and Eleanor Matthews of Atlanta.
“The purpose of the study is to help guide economic development in our county and improve our quality of life,” Grahn told the group by way of introduction that night. She said the project really began three years ago and has received “unprecedented cooperation.”
Some residents were surprised, or even angered, by the blunt descriptions of their community. Others listened intently. Some questioned how certain data was gathered or how it fits in with other factors that are driving the area’s economic development.
The consultants described the study results as an “opportunity” for local residents to help shape the future of their community. “The overall goal is to strengthen your commercial retail base,” Bosch told the group. “Selling your community is 99 percent of the work you have ahead of you.”
The study parameters were set as 25 miles from Madison that would be termed the county’s “trade area.” More than 3,000 surveys were completed by local residents and business owners. They were asked about the perceptions, needs and motivations of local shoppers, businesses and farmers. The goal was to identify the stores and services most desired and needed in the county, and identify the factors that shoppers consider important in deciding where to shop.
The study attempts to indicate the amount and types of new retail space the county could support over the next decade. It recommends strategies for retail development, alternative agricultural solutions for tobacco farmers facing cutbacks, and how to address dollar “leakage” out of the county, that is, shoppers going elsewhere to shop.
Specifically, the study examined four separate shopping areas – Clifty Drive (hilltop Madison), downtown Madison, Hanover and the county at large (including agri-business). In each case, researchers were looking for opportunities for future retail development. They prefaced the presentation by citing national trends toward the development of mixed-use residential-retail “pods.” Such pods provide for easy access to commercial centers via sidewalks or bicycle paths. Such developments also include elements of beautification and a community focal point. Some of their conclusions are as follows:

Downtown Madison: Seasonal survival
The downtown continues to battle storefront vacancies, with 13 first-floor vacancies reported in mid-summer, Bosch said. The survey also showed a need for longer store hours and cited the potential for second story residential space. Parking is also an issue, both for tourists and residents.
“The downtown is a quaint, historic, riverfront mixed-use district that emphasizes specialty shopping and entertainment,” Bosch said.
A strong historic preservation organization will ensure the protection of historic resources, but the keys to success include enhancing pedestrian-friendly shopping and making use of upper story space.
“An aggressive marketing program is necessary to keep the area vibrant,” Bosch said. She added that some “tired” downtown stores may need to upgrade and improve selection.

Clifty Drive: “Mundane”
Marketek researchers say shoppers like to shop where there is “critical mass,” that is, many stores in one place. But they found the boulevard known as Clifty Drive to be “mundane.”
“There is nothing unique about the hilltop commercial strip. It looks like any other strip,” Bosch said. “You have this long, commercial strip surrounded by residential neighborhoods with absolutely no connection with pedestrians or bicycles.”
Bosch noted the new highway being built between Clifty Drive and Hutchinson Lane. She suggested that such road projects present the community with an opportunity to improve on what it already has.
“You need to concentrate on nodes of development and ask yourself, ‘Where’s the focal point?’ Clifty Drive doesn’t have one as it is now.”

Hanover: “There’s no there there.”
Hanover, according to the researchers, is a bedroom community that suffers from one central problem – there’s no core; no physical part of the town serves as its central focal point. “There’s no there there,” Bosch said.
In other words, motorists driving through town on Hwy. 56 aren’t sure when they’ve arrived or when they’ve left. Bosch suggested that town officials develop a plan to establish some critical mass, from a retail standpoint.
The research suggested that the Hanover College student population was underserved by the goods and services available in Hanover. But they also suggested that Hanover not spread out any more than it is. One suggestion was for Hanover to revive its “old town” on Main Street into a small commercial center to serve the student population and possibly emerge as the city’s focal point. It is located within walking distance of campus.
“If you’re going to be a bedroom community, then be the best bedroom community you can be,” Bosch said. “And try to work pedestrians into it.”

Rural Jefferson County: “Slow population growth.”
Bosch said business investors in retail won’t locate where there is no population growth or substantial traffic. Jefferson County has a low population growth. In fact, the recent U.S. Census showed a net increase of only 10 people over the past decade.
Some attribute the slow growth to the county’s distance from interstates.
Bosch also cited the attraction to some residents of that isolation, thereby maintaining the quaintness of the community. However, she added, “There are lots of free standing retail, but no business clusters. Any further retail growth will be tied to population growth.”
Perhaps one positive sign is the recent announcement of a Lowe’s Home Improvement Center coming to Ivy Tech Drive next to Wal-Mart. Other businesses have also recently located in the immediate area, including a Bridgepointe Goodwill, Fantastic Sam’s, Today Rentals, Yahama dealer and credit union.

Community reaction
Reaction to the study has been mixed, but committee members are hoping it serves as the starting point for community-wide action. At the conclusion of the Marketek presentation, Lee delivered a rousing pep talk to those hearing the results for the first time. He urged people to get involved and become catalysts for change.
Lee said some people were offended by the consultants’ description of Clifty Drive as “mundane.” But he said such reaction is part of the process.
“It’s nice that some people were offended because they were offended in a good sort of way,” he said. “You’ve got to come to realize that our county’s livelihood is at risk. So I liked their use of ‘mundane,’ and I hope it gets them thinking about what can be done.”
Don Phillips used to farm 300 acres and operate a dairy before giving up farming in 1996 to become a securities broker for Hilliard-Lyons. He views the failure to preserve farmland as inevitable, saying, “I don’t have a bright outlook for the survival of agriculture in our county.”
Phillips attended the Marketek presentation but came away unimpressed. “I was a little disappointed there wasn’t something new for me. I was hoping to find some surprises.”
Nevertheless, Phillips termed the effort as positive because “how do you know where to go if you don’t know where you are?”
River Valley Financial Bank president Matt Forrester said he had mixed emotions about the study results, especially since his newly expanded bank headquarters sits along the “mundane” Clifty Drive. “Every business along here has worked hard to make it as safe a corridor as possible.” He added that the biggest plus he sees is that “the effort has everybody talking to each other.”
Hanover Town Council president Margaret Seifert took in stride the commentary about her “coreless” town. “I’m afraid it’s true,” she said.
As a member of the project’s steering committee, she hopes to mobilize support among her town leaders to do something about it. She said several business owners are considering starting a merchants group to deal with the absence of businesses that Hanover College students need. “We need more of everything there,” Seifert said.
Wendy Dant Chesser, executive director of the Indiana Rural Development Corp., attended the Marketek presentation and called it a good first step. She works closely with the state’s agriculture department and said officials there would be watching the outcome of the effort.
“I think what the county is doing is taking its future into its own hands and not waiting for retail or residential needs to drive it,” Chesser said. “I was really glad to see the attempt to incorporate agriculture and to recognize that our farmers had something to offer in the process.”
Chesser added that any significant decisions should be made with the county’s long-range economic development plans in mind. “Growth will happen; you can either play a part or let the market dictate what happens, and then nobody has control.”
Grahn and Lee believe the study represents a proactive approach to managing growth and developing a stronger retail base to curtail market “leakage.” They say the more people who get involved the better. Grahn views the study as a tool for others to use as they become involved in shaping this “collaborative” vision for Jefferson County – and not just on issues relating to retail market space.
Before moving ahead, Grahn is hoping local residents will learn more about the study results. It has been posted in its entirety and in a downloadable form on the community website: www.madisonindiana.org.
. The focus of the Retail Market Study committee is now on how to implement some of the findings of the study, according to Lee. “The most important element that we all agree on is what takes place after the study and to not leave it on the vine. This is not something we want to put away in a drawer and forget about.”
Bosch said the critical issue is whether county residents are willing to change or are open to change.
Already, the Collaborative Marketing Project has produced a new marketing campaign that has been coordinated among various agencies, including tourism. The same theme and designs have been used in this year’s tourism booklet, a new Walking Tour Guide of Madison, a soon-to-be-published Heritage Booklet, and interpretive and directional signage in Madison.
It has helped with new road signs being erected at the main entry points into the city. Grant money from the project has helped to stage new events, such as the Madison Area Chamber of Commerce’s inaugural Regional Business Expo and the Great Event, a community welcome day for new residents and Hanover College incoming freshmen.
The project also helped fund websites for nonprofit groups, a shared traveling exhibit, training programs for agricultural entrepreneurialship, advertising, skill-enhancement and new logo design – all efforts to bring the county together to market itself with most efficient use of resources.
Regarding the retail economy, Grahn said the study represents only the beginning. “The work will continue and our cooperation will continue. We don’t have the luxury of isolating ourselves from one another.”

Back to September 2002 Articles.



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