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Experts: EUP could support $60 million in new retail and dining


May 10, 2018   

SAULT STE. MARIE — Anyone who has ever dreamed of a particular new store or other commercial business in the Eastern Upper Peninsula may be intrigued by new expert analysis of the kinds of business that could be supported and sustained in seven EUP communities.

Newly-compiled data on the topic of retail trade is expected to provide a springboard to growth for those seven communities. The seven studied were: Brimley, Clark Township, Mackinac Island, Newberry, Paradise, Soo Township, and St. Ignace. Retail Target Market Analysis (TMA) was performed for each, thanks to funds from the 2017 Regional Prosperity Initiative awarded to the EUP Regional Planning & Development Commission (EUPRPDC) for the project. Birmingham-based Gibbs Planning Group (GPG) performed the analysis, which was complete in early April.


“Our research indicated that the seven communities studied could support a total of 244,400 square feet of new retail space with the potential to generate up to $60.5 million in new retail sales for the region,” summarized Dave Mangum, a certified urban planner with GPG.


“The $60.5 million in potential new sales figure represents a fraction of the dollars that are leaving these communities and being spent elsewhere. Residents, workers and visitors could prefer to spend that money in these communities, but the opportunities aren’t currently available,” he added.


These results, which are detailed for each community, open the door for well-informed growth that could include the expansion of existing businesses, new commercial developments, planning and zoning changes, and more.


The studies take a deep dive into the types of businesses that could be supported in each community, quantifying it by the number of total square feet that could be supported in a particular category.


A need for restaurants was one common thread among the seven communities revealed in the studies. In each community, capacity for additional full service restaurants or expanded restaurants appeared in the number one or number two spot. In only two communities, Brimley and Paradise, capacity for grocery retail surpassed restaurants.  


Thanks to this undertaking, leaders in participating communities now have a qualitative opinion from experts in the field of retail and commercial development as to opportunities for sustainable growth. More than just a nod to particular retail categories, the results also include potential sales figures.


St. Ignace is a prime example. Retail analysis indicated that apparel, beauty and cosmetics, and a variety of restaurants and food services were all in demand. Experts estimated an $8.1 million increase in sales to the region could occur with growth in those categories, representing a 6.7 percent increase. 


How does this information impact local growth? Existing retailers and entrepreneurs may wish to expand into those areas by growing product lines, opening another location, or otherwise supplementing what is currently available. Developers considering the region may see specific opportunities in those categories where growth is possible.


Each of the reports examines spending potential and purchasing patterns of consumers in that particular area. For instance, when consumers shop using a credit card, researchers can find data about how and where people in a particular zip code shop and patterns can be discovered. GPG used data like this and a lot of other resources to measure existing demand. Whether it is regular out-of-town shopping trips or purchases made online, the data helped experts see where demand exists and could be met locally with sustainable development.


The experts also provided demographic insights about each area that could help an entrepreneur better understand what kinds of stores or restaurants might appeal to the people in that market area.  


“The results of the retail TMAs were overwhelmingly encouraging in the number of opportunities that seemingly exist for business expansion in the seven communities,” said EUPRPDC Chief Executive Officer Jeff Hagan. 


“While we have often heard anecdotally that communities need ‘X’ type of retail developments, these analyses provide hard data with which entrepreneurs and municipal leaders can address and pursue such developments,” he added.


Rebecca Bolen, a planner at EUPRPDC, is hopeful that organizations like Chambers of Commerce, economic development organizations, municipalities and others with take advantage of this information.


“We believe that community leaders and economic developers could successfully employ these studies as an attraction tool to show entrepreneurs the potential that exists in the community,” she explained. “There is a good deal of detail to be gleaned from each report and it is the kind of information that supports financial investment,” she noted.


GPG’s Mangum cautioned that change wouldn’t come about magically. “There are very few communities in the U.S. where retailers and developers are in a hurry to build or open new retail space,” he explained. “The communities that are successful work very hard to catch the attention of new retailers and developers. They attend industry trade shows, hire or train business recruitment staff, ensure their codes and policies are development friend and tirelessly work to differentiate themselves from other communities,” Mangum said.


 Hagan and Bolen are prepared to help communities determine how to develop an attraction strategy if needed. 


“Our organization is prepared to partner with any of the municipalities that may want to evaluate possible next steps,” Hagan said. “Each of those communities now has a unique and vital tool to assist them in sustainable growth and making good use of the data is in the best interest of the entire region,” Hagan said.


GPG experts encouraged communities to explore a variety of approaches. “There are several strategies that could be explored to expand the retail offerings and improve the shopping experience. Pop-up shops, food trucks, outdoor dining and public markets can be implemented in creative ways that can have a positive effect on a shopper’s perception of downtown,” Mangum suggested.


The seven studies can be viewed online at

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