OUR OPINION: 'Time for a study of shopping patterns'

What would it take to convince Barnes & Noble to open a bookstore in Grand Forks? How about attracting other national retail and restaurant chains?...

What would it take to convince Barnes & Noble to open a bookstore in Grand Forks? How about attracting other national retail and restaurant chains?

How can Grand Forks minimize "leakage" of shoppers to other cities?

Grand Forks' business community wants to commission a study to answer these and related questions. That's a smart move, because those answers are one of the keys to the city's future.

The Grand Forks economy is based on several pillars. One of those is retail sales: Grand Forks' ability to attract shoppers from Canada and the valley region.

That's why Grand Forks residents track technical numbers such as U.S./Canada exchange rate and the number of travelers who cross the border at Pembina, N.D. Those residents know that those numbers translate directly into jobs, tax revenue, corporate expansions and and other economic indicators in Grand Forks.


No wonder economist Ralph Kingsbury dissects local sales tax figures with such care in his Herald column. And recently, the figures show an unusual trend, Kingsbury wrote in his July 3 column:

"The best we see is that sales taxes collections are steady to maybe up a percent," he wrote.

"The 3-percent motel tax for January through April is up more than 15 percent, but the sales tax collections for shopping from January through May is down more than 3 percent.

"All these visitors staying at the motels are not buying anything. ... It may be time for a study of shopping patterns."

Exactly. And that's just what local business leaders want to undertake.

"Members of a Grand Forks retail task force continue to seek city funding for a study they said would help area retailers reduce the leakage of customers to other cities," Herald staff writer Tu-Uyen Tran reported Tuesday.

"The data will be so detailed that local retailers will be able to find out the kind of clothes a Grand Forks area resident is buying in Fargo that he or she can't find here, said Chamber of Commerce President Barry Wilfahrt."

The study will be conducted by Buxton Inc., a respected Fort Worth, Texas firm that specializes in market analysis and retail recruitment. So, if Buxton concludes that, say, "Grand Forks can support a book superstore," then Grand Forks can approach Barnes & Noble and make a very credible case, one observer said.


The retail task force is asking the Chamber, the Convention and Visitors Bureau and the cities of Grand Forks and East Grand Forks to pay for the study. There are a few loose ends to tie up, but at this point, all of the parties have agreed to chip in.

Good. The idea is sound, the cost is reasonable and the results will extremely useful for sparking Grand Forks' future growth. That sounds like a worthwhile investment all the way around.

-- Tom Dennis for the Herald

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