The Sears Hometown in Maryville announced its closing following Sears Hometown Stores, Inc. filing for bankruptcy. Director of Nodaway County Economic Development Josh McKim said that chain stores closing impacts rural communities and its economy.

The end of December, for most, means celebrating the holidays and bringing in the new year. For one store in Maryville, it also included their closure announcement. Following Sears Hometown Stores Inc. declaration of bankruptcy in December 2022, the Maryville location is the final store of its kind in the region. 

Though the store in Maryville will be shutting down, it isn’t the only town where this will happen. There will be 115 Sears Hometown Store closures nationwide, with three shutdowns in Missouri, three in Iowa and four in Nebraska. 

Executive Director of Nodaway County Economic Development Josh McKim said this trend was seen before COVID, but the process sped up as in-person shopping came to a halt and had to move online. 

“We were seeing a trend of more online shopping, but also people wanted their shopping to be an experience,” McKim said. “So it seemed, as an outsider looking in, it seemed that there were some strengths in businesses that could provide an experience.”

During the first year of COVID, there were roughly 200,000 permanent business closures across the nation, according to a study done through the Finance and Economics Discussion Series at the Federal Reserve. 

Alongside this, McKim said since the pandemic, big companies have cut back on expansions and have started cutting shops and stores all over. Some locations at the top of the list for closures are those in rural areas.  

“I really get frustrated with corporate retail because as you look at over the last 10 years of closures in Maryville that were corporate related stores, not one of them wasn't profitable,” McKim said. “It was a corporate decision that said ‘We're not profitable as a corporation, we're gonna cut resources in small markets to move them to larger markets,’ Well, the small markets were where they were making their money.” 

The discontinuation of stores in rural areas not only impacts revenue that is invested back into the community because of sales taxes, it impacts people on a much more personal level. 

“You see people you know, who had jobs, who had opportunities, who had a career that they were building that goes away,” McKim said. “Some of them are able to easily transition somewhere else, but some of them aren't. … There's a personal cost that folks bear and then as a community there's a cost because we see our friends and neighbors negatively impacted.”

Despite the closure of hundreds of large chain business locations across the nation, small businesses surged in the second half of 2020 and have continued to do so since, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. 

Nodaway County businesses were no different. During the first months of the pandemic, McKim said business owners had to adapt to the new wave of shopping while in-person business slowed to nearly nothing. Naturally, some businesses met their end, while others were able to continue on.

McKim said NCED offered funding and webinar series toward the beginning of the pandemic so businesses could easily transition to online sales as limits were placed on brick-and-mortar shopping. Though restrictions have been lifted, the foot traffic seen pre-pandemic hasn’t been seen since. 

“I've seen a lot of other economic development professionals in my line of work talking about how easy it was for them to do that and not even thinking about how that impacted their local shops,” McKim said. “The scary part to me is that if professionals in my line of work aren't thinking of the impacts, the general public a lot of times isn't. Online shopping is going to be a major challenge.” 

Projections from the beginning of COVID set small business closures at anywhere from 25-35%. McKim said Nodaway County didn’t see anywhere near that number and gives credit to local owners and shopping and their ability to adapt. 

“I've always been impressed with the heart of our local businesses, ownership and their grit,” he said. “...We didn't see anything near that. I think that's a testament to our community at large and their understanding that they need to support local well, because if they don't, then they won't be there in the future.”

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