Southbridge Penney 2

The J.C. Penney store in Mason City's Southbridge Mall closed in April 2015.

There was a bit of bad news for Pierre last Friday.

Another national retailer announced the imminent closure of its Pierre location. This time it was Rue 21 up at Northridge Plaza. This is sort of a double whammy for the local mall and it's really not the Northridge Plaza management's fault.

Smaller malls have been declining in popularity for more than a decade and the retail sector of the U.S. economy has been sputtering through a tectonic shift in the way it does business. Profit margins are shrinking and store visitation is down, which means the folks at the top of these national chains have to decide whether the expense of keeping a smaller store in a rural area open is justifiable.

Increasingly, it seems, the answer is no, those smaller stores aren't worth keeping open. The corporate officers making these decisions are not beholden to the people who lose their jobs or the customers who find their already limited shopping options narrowed a bit more. They answer to the stockholders and the company's board of directors. That is as it should be. After all, a corporation exists to both mitigate risk and pay its shareholders their dividends.

The bottom line for those of us who live in rural America is that we are increasingly under served by that kind of business, particularly when it comes to retail. The problem gets worse when the ag economy finds itself on the down side of its business cycle like it is now.

Thankfully, Pierre and Fort Pierre are somewhat insulated against the ag economy's downturn thanks to the presence of state government. Still, as evidenced by the recent closure announcements of Rue 21 and J.C. Penneys, our community is still going to be affected by national trends, just like any other rural community. And like other rural communities those issues will continue to make growth harder.

The solution is entrepreneurship. We should be looking to our own citizens to fill gaps in our communities. We should be encouraging people to come here to open a business. Support for local entrepreneurs should come not only from each of us as individuals but from our city and county governments too.

Locally owned businesses are far better for the local economies too. The money spent at local businesses tends to stay in the community far longer than money spent at large chain stores, for example. Local business owners also are far more likely to give money to local charities and are more likely to be civically engaged.

More of that can only be a good thing.

This editorial appeared in the April 18 edition of the Capital Journal of Pierre, South Dakota.


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