Danville pushing to keep shoppers' money in town

DANVILLE — With the spurt of retail development in Danville, residents have more reason than ever to follow the local slogan "Think Vermilion County First" when grabbing Black Friday bargains today.

It's no secret that Champaign-Urbana's wider variety of retail stores and restaurants pulls in shoppers throughout East Central Illinois, including Vermilion County. But with the opening of Kohl's, TJ Maxx, Meijer, Ross Dress for Less, Dunham's and Burlington Coat Factory in Danville the last two years, officials hope there's more reason for locals to shop locally this holiday season and more reason for others to choose Danville as a shopping destination.

Others such as Luann Ping, who lives in Indiana, about 12 miles from Danville, and was in town this week to shop at Kohl's. She said she shopped in the city prior to the new retail development, but now, she'll probably shop here more. She said she loves Kohl's and used to travel to the store in Champaign but now will go to the Danville location.

"There's more choice in the (Danville area) retail market today than there's been since the mid- to late ’70s," said Vicki Haugen, chief executive officer with Vermilion Advantage, the county's economic development office. "The hope is — and there's no reason to believe it won't be the case — that people will have less of a need to go out of town."

In the last five years, Vermilion Advantage has focused its economic development efforts on retail as much as other sectors of the economy for several reasons, but one in particular.

"It's just so critical, because of the power of sales-tax revenue," Haugen said.

When local residents do much of their shopping out of the city and county, they take their sales-tax dollars with them.

Haugen's office and the city have both been encouraging residents to spend locally for years, just as many other cities do for the same reason.

Danville Mayor Scott Eisenhauer said 65 percent of the city's revenue to operate general government — including police, fire, parks and recreation — comes from sales taxes. In this year's budget, the city expects to collect $22.6 million in revenue for general operation. Of that, more than $13 million comes from sales taxes, compared with less than $6 million generated by property taxes.

And the last few years, Eisenhauer said, sales-tax dollars have been providing some property-tax relief, because the city has been using the former to pay increasing costs, such as police and fire pensions, that have historically been paid with the latter.

When Vermilion Advantage officials began focusing on retail several years ago, they targeted certain types of stores to fill gaps where much of the local dollars were going out of the area, like clothing and home decor. Haugen's office has used retail industry data to track "leakage" — the amount of retail dollars going out of the area — and surplus — when dollars are coming in to the area. Other than gas stations, Danville had no surpluses. Its gaps had grown slowly over more than a decade with closings of major stores, including Target, J.C. Penney, Hobby Lobby and Rex.

Five years ago, some of Danville's areas of major leakage included clothing, home furnishings, home decor, electronics, sporting goods, books and periodicals. Recent retail development should help fill those gaps, according to Danville city and economic development officials.

And Haugen expects Danville's retail rebound to continue into 2014 as interest from developers continues to be strong.

"We are working with four different developers right now," she said.

Several years ago, Haugen said her staff and city officials realized the benefit of focusing on the area's leakage gaps and recruiting a couple big-name retailers. The goal: to start a snowball effect among other retailers taking notice of the Danville area.

"And that's certainly happening," she said, "so there are no signs that this trend will taper off in 2014."

Hit the road

Q: What does Vermilion County have that Champaign County doesn't?
A: Soon, a Sears store. After its liquidation sale at its Market Place Mall location, the retailer will be without a presence in Champaign for the first time in 85 years, making the store Danville's Village Mall the closest location for C-U shoppers.

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