Community plays big part in store’s fate


JASPER — What’s one thing that can help secure a store’s presence in a community?

Its shoppers.

“It’s basically the voting of the local public by shopping there,” said Jim Wittman, senior vice president and chief operating officer of Evansville-based Regency Properties, which owns Germantown Shopping Center on Jasper’s north side.

The shopping center houses Carson’s, a department store owned by Bon-Ton. Bon-Ton announced on Jan. 31 that 42 of its stores — which include Carson’s, Bergner’s, Herberger’s, Elder-Beerman, Bon-Ton, Younkers and Boston Stores — will close in 2018. On Feb. 4, the parent company announced it has filed for bankruptcy.

The Jasper Carson’s was spared and Wittman believes it’s because of the store’s shoppers and because the store “serves the needs and wants of that community.”

While he said Regency doesn’t have much say on whether a store stays or goes, there are some things the shopping center owner can do to help.

For example, Regency knew Carson’s parent company, Bon-Ton, was struggling, so Regency bought local advertising going into this last Christmas season.

“We wanted to make sure that the local community was aware that they (Carson’s) were there, that our shopping center was there and that they did as much shopping there as possible,” Wittman said. “When somebody files bankruptcy, or forget about bankruptcy, just making the decision whether they’re going to stay in a community, they look at how much sales they have there.

“So anytime we can draw more people or find a way to increase our tenants’ sales, we certainly want to do that.”

Regency also aims to help tenants by bringing in tenants that complement one another.

“We put Wings Etc. in (Germantown Shopping Center) last year and thought that was a big thing because more and more people want to shop, they want to eat, do all that stuff together,” he said, also saying that new addition Harbor Freight, and the JOANN Fabrics and Crafts store — expected to open by summer — also complement one another and other stores, such as Carson’s.

“We would expect a lot of men to go into Harbor Freight, and sometimes — guy or woman — you’re kind of dragged with the other person,” Wittman said. “So, ‘Hey, I’m going to run into Bon-Ton (Carson’s) for a little bit.’ ‘OK, I’m going to sit in the car, or I’m going to go to Wings Etc. and watch some football or basketball, or hey, there’s a new tool store. I’m going to go in there.’”

He hopes the new JOANN Fabrics and Crafts will change some people’s shopping habits. In Regency’s ideal world, instead of going to the craft store in Evansville, shoppers will go to Jasper’s store. Then, they’ll also do the other shopping that they would’ve done in Evansville in Jasper.

“That’s how you create that synergy that we’re looking for,” Wittman said.

With Bon-Ton’s recent struggles, Regency is keeping in close contact with the company. Carson’s is doing well in Jasper, Wittman said, and it’s Regency’s hope that people keep shopping there and they do even better.

“The No. 1 thing is the community controls this by how they vote and they vote by shopping,” Wittman said. “Not trying to make anybody feel guilty, but we all shop other places sometimes and you just have to realize that could be hurting something that’s happening locally.”

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