Geography Student Studying Why Retail Stores are Closing

Posted on 4/11/2018 8:40:38 AM

Dane HigbeeIt’s no secret that so-called “brick and mortar” stores are closing their doors at alarming rates in some parts of the United States, and Dane Higbee wants to know why.

Higbee, a senior majoring in Geography and Regional Planning, presented his research project, “Retail in Small Communities: Assessing the Consumer Spending Impacts of Store Closures” on Tuesday, April 3, at the 13th annual Undergraduate Scholars Forum at the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex.

The forum allows IUP undergraduate students to present information about research projects they’ve been working on to the university community. Each student gets a 15-minute block to talk about their project and show data and any results they might have.

For Higbee, the issue is not just why stores are closing, but the amount of damage such closures cause communities.

“Small communities are grappling with the loss of brick and mortar stores,” he said, “and there are a lot of prevalent issues with it.”

Higbee’s project was done for Sudeshna Ghosh’s 400-level class, Community Planning Practicum.

Higbee took a look at data from the Harlan County, Kentucky, to see what causes stores to close. Based on his research, between 2002 and 2012, the county went from 94 retail establishments to 63.

Harlan County had been the home of a Belk department store, which for a long time was a major chain in the southern United States. But the Belk store in Harlan County closed in 2007, and it had rippling effects in the community of 28,400 people, Higbee said.

According to research Higbee found in various publications, there are several reasons why a community would lose a third of its stores like Harlan County did, with the main one being that bigger chain stores flush out the need for smaller ones, although the research showed that in some cases, a community with a Walmart store in it is likely to be doing better economically than one without a Walmart because the presence of such a store has led to a demand of smaller, non-chain retail stores.

There’s also the issue of demand. Thanks to online shopping giants such as Amazon, the convenience of shopping from home has cut the sales at brick-and-mortar stores all over the country.

The third other issue is that in many communities that lose retail spaces, there are other problems in the area that end up leading to the closures.

“In some of these retail communities,” Higbee said, “having a store closure can have devastating effects.”