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Bighorn Basin Proactive As Shopkos Close

Kamila Kudelska

If you've never been to a Shopko, it's similar to a small Walmart. You can get groceries, apparel and lawn products all in one place. They're usually found in small towns.

Back in March, Shopko announced it will be closing all its locations, and it's a big deal for small towns. This is a big deal but towns throughout the Big Horn Basin are being proactive about the news.

When Christine Bekes, the executive director of the Powell Economic Partnership, found out that Shopko was closing, she said there were a couple of products like pet, health and beauty supplies that immediately came to mind. Without Shopko, people may not be able to get those things in town anymore. But one hit a little closer to home: children's footwear.

"I'm not sure where I'm going to get my daughters shoes," said Bekes.

In Wyoming, a total of 13 communities are impacted. Four of those are in the Bighorn Basin. Those four communities are joining forces with the Wyoming Business Council and Main Street America Institute to try to figure out how to mitigate the economic impact before it becomes a problem. So the communities of Worland, Greybull, Thermopolis and Powell conducted an online survey and focus groups to find out more

Bekes also toured shops in Powell with local leaders, retailers, and business owners to see what products were needed. Murdoch's, a ranch and home supply store, was part of that tour.

"Christine came to us, walked around the store with me. I showed them everything. They were concerned about the Shopko closing," said Curt Scott, the manager of Murdoch's.

"She was like, 'Curt, there's no place in Powell to buy tennis shoes now.' Just little things like that that are going to go away," said Scott.

Scott decided that he would add more outdoor type products like fertilizers, apparel, toys and, of course, kids tennis shoes.

"We'll have tennis shoes, maybe just a couple of lines but a few pairs anyway so we can justify kids running around in tennis shoes instead of boots," laughed Scott.

Credit Kamila Kudelska
Powell retailers, business owners and leaders chat about the recommendations after watching the public webinar.

Just recently, the Wyoming Business Council and Main Street America Institute presented the results of all of the work done in the Bighorn Basin. Christine Bekes said it was affirming.

"It made me feel good because I was like, 'check, check.' We're on the right track for the recommendations," she said.

The first short term recommendation is to make sure the community has the products that may have previously only been at Shopko like pet supplies, wellness and hygiene and lawn and garden products. Check.

The next one was developing a regional and local business directory. Bekes said Powell is working on a shop and dine map. So again, check.

Some long term recommendations included building out an entrepreneur ecosystem

"We'll be highlighting our local maker space more and also partnering with Cody for an entrepreneurial start up challenge and a Park County start-up," said Bekes.

Trying to revitalize the retail of small towns is not only a problem in Wyoming said Amy Quick, the northwest regional director for the Wyoming Business Council.

"This a national issue that states are facing across the country," said Quick.

As online shopping becomes more and more popular, both small shops and large retail stores are struggling across the country. Quick said towns are losing their sense of community.

"We can be proactive to try to make a change and keep our communities vibrant and livable," said Quick.

And it seems that the Bighorn Basin may be on the right track, as the communities push to showcase what they have to offer.

Kamila has worked for public radio stations in California, New York, France and Poland. Originally from New York City, she loves exploring new places. Kamila received her master in journalism from Columbia University. In her spare time, she enjoys exploring the surrounding areas with her two pups and husband.
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