Aurora retailers feel online shopping squeeze


AURORA | As more and more consumers shift their shopping online, traditional retailers are feeling the squeeze.

In February and March, the industry lost about 60,000 jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

That could signal a problem for Aurora, said local officials, because retail sales tax revenue is the biggest source of tax revenue for the city.

Tim Gonerka, the city’s retail specialist, said new developments, including Stanley Marketplace and other transit-oriented developments, show the city’s retail sector is still growing. So, despite what Gonerka projects could be as many as 4,000 storefronts closing around the country in 2017, Aurora’s roughly 3,000 retailers are in OK shape.

“While the short-term outlook is good, keeping this revenue stream healthy and growing will take a creative and proactive approach by the city in order to stand out from competing municipalities and locations,” he said in a memo this month to city council’s Planning and Economic Development committee.

And local officials say Aurora could be in a unique spot.

While the city has lost many of the same national chains in recent months that have shuttered in other places around the country — including a massive Sports Authority location at City Center near East Alameda Avenue and Interstate 225, and a prominent Gander Mountain near East Jewell Avenue and South Abilene Street — Aurora’s retail “hubs” have fared fairly well.

Gonerka said those hubs include Gardens on Havana near East Mississippi Avenue and South Havana Street, and Southlands shopping center near the E-470 Toll Road and Smoky Hill Road.

Gayle Jetchick, executive director of the Havana Business Improvement District, said Gardens isn’t experiencing the sort of storefront closures that other shopping centers are.

Instead, the booming shopping district — which sits on the site of the old Buckingham Square Mall, which was razed and redeveloped a decade ago — is steadily adding more new retailers. A new Sally Beauty Supply store is coming to Gardens in May, and the shopping center across Havana Street recently landed a pet supply store, she said.

Still, Jetchick said, the retailers in her district are well aware that shoppers are more inclined to buy online than they once were. That means stores have to make some changes in the way sell products.

Some retailers are putting more emphasis on selling items on the internet, but having customers pick up in-store, she said. The goal there is to get customers to buy the big ticket item online and then see other items in the store that they also need.

“If they have both brick-and-mortar and online, they do better,” Jetchick said.

And local leaders are hoping that if retail sees continued job losses, Aurora could be in a position to replace those jobs in the e-commerce field.

Already, Aurora has lured two Amazon facilities — the e-commerce giant’s only two Colorado locations — to warehouses along the Interstate 70 corridor on the city’s northern end. One of those, a 1,000,000-square-foot distribution facility set to open later this year, will employ 1,000 people.

Kevin Hougen, president of the Aurora Chamber of Commerce, said those jobs will be important, especially if retail continues its slide.

What many are waiting to find out, Hougen said, is whether those new distribution jobs will replace the retail jobs that could be lost as e-commerce gobbles up more consumer dollars.

“It’s got to be concerning to all of our brick-and-mortars,” he said.

And retailers say, despite the string of job losses so far this year, the industry’s future is hardly dire.

According to the National Retail Federation, sales in March jumped 0.3 percent over February and 3.5 percent compared to the same period last year.

Ana Smith, spokeswoman for NRF, said the industry today has more than 600,000 job openings, a figure that has persisted for months.

“We haven’t been able, as an industry, to fill all of those jobs right now,” she said.