Small businesses hope to fill void following big-box store closures


Small businesses hope to fill void following big-box store closures 

By Mary Green         

OELWEIN, Iowa (KCRG) - Iowa shoppers will have one fewer place to get their goods by June, as Shopko will be closing all its stores across the country.

That includes more than 30 stores in Iowa, and in some towns, it will leave residents with limited options after those choices were already scarce to begin with.

In Oelwein, Shopko’s closing on May 12 will come just a few months after the city’s Kmart shut its doors last year.

“It’s been pretty devastating to our community,” said Deb Howard, executive director of the Oelwein Chamber and Area Development.

Howard said these closures aren’t a reflection of their local economy.

“It really has nothing to do with Oelwein,” she said. “It’s a corporate decision. It’s bankruptcies, and unfortunately, we had two of those businesses in Oelwein.”

Others want to know if other big stores, like Walmart, could be filling their vacancies.

“We are too small of a community for any of those stores to be interested in us,” she said.

So now, Oelwein is thinking big by turning to its small businesses. Some of those local stores will start carrying new products that customers had previously bought at Kmart and Shopko.

“It is a responsibility as a business owner to try to serve your customers’ needs, figure out what your customers are looking for, what the needs are in the community, and try to provide that service and those products,” said Sarah Scheel, owner of Lumber Ridge Home Source.

Up to this point, customers had mainly stopped by Lumber Ridge for hardware and home improvement items, but soon, they’ll also be able to pick up items like gardening equipment and plants, pet supplies and small appliances.

“Just expand on a lot of stuff we usually only carried a few of, or some of the stuff, we haven’t carried any, so we’re trying to add to fill that,” Scheel said.

Norby’s Farm Fleet will be moving into the vacated Kmart building, and Howard added that it too will carrying more items than it did before, including clothing.

Scheel said a lot is riding on stores’ ability to keep Oelwein customers shopping locally, which is why they’re choosing to expand their inventories.

“You’ll have people going out of town for certain things and certain products, and then, unfortunately, they’ll buy other products while they’re there instead of staying in town,” she said.

“We don’t want to lose our grocery stores and our hardware stores and all the small specialty stores that we already have, so in order for those people to thrive, we need to support them,” Howard added.

Oelwein businesses now hope to turn these two big losses into even bigger gains.

“It’s an issue and exciting all at the same time for us to take a look at and tackle and see how we can all grow and expand and support the community,” Scheel said.


Shopko Grocery Iowa Grocery Industry Association Store closing