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Large retail stores drive up local sales

This past fiscal year has been more than kind to the retail shops here in eastern Idaho, as certain large retail stores that have settled into the community have been giving a boost to the local economy.

The Pine Ridge mall’s parking lot has even been looking busier these days after the retail giant Herberger’s made its way into where the old Dillard’s used to be this past October.

The Pocatello Chamber of Commerce is even seeing evidence of these big dogs bringing home the bacon for smaller businesses around Bannock County.

“We’ve had a great 2012 with new companies coming in and with new retailers coming in,” Pocatello Chamber of Commerce CEO and President Matt Hunter said. “Our hotels have done well and it has been a great year.”

Hunter said the acquisition of Herberger’s has kept people shopping locally, and in return retail sales in Bannock County have skyrocketed.

“It’s helping to keep shoppers here, and when they’re here they shop at other stores, too,” Hunter said.

But Bannock County’s retail sales numbers have not always proven to be impressive. In fact, the most recent 2011 economic study by the Idaho Department of Labor shows Bonneville has always been the top earner in the eastern Idaho area, racking-in nearly $3.2 billion last year in retail sales.

Bannock County finished second with $976 million in retail sales followed closely by Bingham County who earned $928 million.

Although Bingham County might have finished in third place, the numbers are still surprising considering its population size and lackluster shopping vicinities as compared with the other two counties.

The D.O.L’s report also shows that Bingham County’s earnings jumped from $596 million in 2006. That’s about a 56 percent increase in merely five years. On the other hand, Bannock County saw a decrease in sales between the same time period. In 2006, the county was looking at just over $1 million.

While Bannock County has seen its share of struggling retail sales numbers in recent years, although the numbers for 2012 will most likely not be reported until February, Hunter believes this year has been significantly more positive for the county.

Other local businesses around the county have seen this positive indicator reflected in their annual sales as well.

“This past year has been great,” Barries Ski and Sports sales associate Travis Kumm said. “Especially with our bike sales. I don’t know if it’s because of the fuel prices or what.”

Alright, so maybe the direct effects of bringing in the big businesses are not easily seen. Well, at least not until the numbers actually come in next year.

Michelle Mills is not only a Herberger’s assistant manager, but she has lived in the Pocatello community for more than three decades and has worked in the retail sector during the duration of that time. She know what positive impacts this chain retailer has on a small economy.

“I’ve been in retail here for more than 30 years and I’m very excited to see a new store here,” Mills said. “It’ll keep people shopping in Pocatello, and I think the people here in Pocatello are excited to have a new place to shop.”

Hunter said this has also helped create more jobs.

Since Herberger’s moved into town in October, it hired more than 140 new employees, and unemployment in Bannock County is down to 6.8 percent. As of November, unemployment in the county is reported at a low of 6.6 percent, down from the 7.2 percent it stood less than a year ago.

“Realistically, we’re creating more jobs which should create more retail. I’m really waiting for the next big retail spot that’s going to come into the mall,” Hunter said.

As aforementioned, Herberger’s replaced what used to be Dillard’s. However, the department store only takes up half of the space Dillard’s occupied, and so talks of expansion are in the air. But Dillard’s is not the only giant retail store to have shipped out. A few years ago Macy’s also had a spot in the mall, and it is still vacant.

Although nobody has any knowledge of who might be moving into the old Macy’s vicinity quite yet, the Chamber of Commerce is crossing its fingers the new kid on the block will actually be an old, anchor of a department store similar to the one that just moved in.

Follow Kaitlin on Twitter: @KaitlinLoukides

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