As Amazon's easy online access and same-day delivery reduces foot traffic at brick-and-mortar stores, more and more "big box" retailers are calling it quits.
The trend is especially evident in Reynoldsburg, where a longtime Kmart store on Brice Road closed in March, followed by Gregg Appliances Inc.'s hhgregg outlet on Taylor Park Road in May and, nearby, The Andersons on Alshire Road in early June.
Gander Mountain, an anchor store at the Taylor Square Shopping Center, is winding up operations after announcing last month it would permanently close the store at 2644 Taylor Road Southwest in Reynoldsburg.
The loss of hhgregg and Gander Mountain are part of more widespread closings by those companies. The nationwide shuttering of hhgregg stores also claimed outlets in Dublin and Grove City and at the Easton shopping area. Gander Mountain also closed a store at 5388 Westpointe Plaza Drive in Hilliard after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in March.
Gander Mountain was bought by Camping World Holdings Inc., which could reopen as many as 70 of the retailer's 126 nationwide locations but not the two in central Ohio, according to CEO Marcus Lemonis.
In addition to its Alshire Road store, The Andersons also closed a store on Bent Tree Boulevard on Columbus' northwest side, eliminating about 400 positions, according to a statement by the company.
Those closings came on the heels of shrinking numbers nationwide for such mall-based stores as RadioShack and Payless ShoeSource and The Limited, which closed all its outlets.
Filling the spaces
The city's hands are somewhat tied when it comes to figuring out what to do with the empty spaces, according to Reynoldsburg Development Director Dan Havener.
"What happens to the space is strictly in the hands of the property owners, but we start as quickly as we can to begin talking to those owners about future development," he said. "There is no question these closings will have an effect on the community. These types of situations create unemployment, and people have to go on to find jobs somewhere else."
Havener said discussions have been ongoing about the Kmart property, which is owned by Gilbert Group Real Estate of Columbus.
"We have had some expressed interest in the property," he said.
Nobody wants to see large, empty big-box stores at Taylor Square or other city shopping centers, Havener said.
"We want to work with the owners as much as possible and help create the best future for each site," he said.
Local development experts say they are optimistic, however, that Reynoldsburg and central Ohio could rebound from the loss of big-box stores, despite a "changing retail landscape."
Kerstin Carr, director of planning and environment for the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, said as consumer preferences change, so do retail offerings.
"Losing larger retail stores can be especially difficult because of their large physical footprint and the number of jobs and revenues they generate in the community," she said. "The good news is, change represents opportunity."
She said central Ohio communities should focus on reinventing existing shopping centers when big-box stores close.
"Nonresidential retail sites have great potential to be transformed into walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods that meet today's growing market demand through infill and redevelopment," she said.
"These neighborhoods would include a mix of smaller housing, office and retail space."
MORPC, along with Columbus2020 and the Columbus District Council of the Urban Land Institute, created insight2050 in 2014 to examine demographic changes and how they influence the design and function of neighborhoods.
"Based on current growth trends, we expect our region could grow by up to 1 million people by the year 2050," Carr said.
She said that population, regardless of whether it's adults older than 65 or young millennials, would want many of the same things.
"Both increasingly want better access to jobs, services and entertainment and more ways to get to them," she said. "This includes a growing market preference for streets with sidewalks, bicycle infrastructure and more transportation choices like increased public transportation."
Praising the city
Kenny McDonald, president and chief economic officer at Columbus2020, called Reynoldsburg "one of our very best communities and economic development partners."
"They continue to invest in themselves, which attracts a workforce," he said. "There is a lot of change underway in the retail sector, which has an impact on our communities and corresponding local revenue streams.
"We will both win and lose as the sector changes and consumer buying habits evolve," he said. "We're confident that communities like Reynoldsburg will continue to adjust, along with their local businesses."
He said the local job market remains strong, so people displaced through downsizings should have "ample career opportunities."
Carr said Reynoldsburg, with a population of about 36,600, "is capable of supporting a nice mix of amenities."
"The city is currently planning for the development of a master/comprehensive plan to guide future development in the city, addressing the city's desire for better business diversity and ultimately, a stronger community," she said. "With such a plan in hand, the city will be able to take advantage of these changing preferences to meet the needs of current residents and position itself to be competitive for future residents and the jobs and services to support them."