Some wealthy, successful men around here recently have put on long faces about the region’s future.
In January, a corporate spokesman for NorthTown Mall suggested a development in downtown Spokane would be hurtful to the region.
A successful downtown would “cannibalize” other businesses, said Sabey Corp. executive vice president Laurent Poole.
Then, just last week Idaho business leader Duane Hagadone offered his own gloomy economic assessment.
Noting tourism and construction in Idaho were down, Hagadone told Coeur d’Alene Realtors locals should “shop at home” so their hard-earned dollars don’t come across the Washington-Idaho border into Spokane County.
This hand-wringing seems out of place and out of context for leaders who have made careers of being upbeat and positive.
First, consider this idea that a healthy downtown will cannibalize other operations.
Sabey Corp., a Puget Sound-based company, has invested more than $130 million in NorthTown over the past few years to attract business.
In essence, Sabey has bet a considerable sum that if he created a good shopping environment more people would come to NorthTown.
And, they did. Some came from downtown Spokane, some from University City in the Valley. But the overall Spokane market grew as shoppers streamed in from Montana, the Columbia Basin and from Canada. NorthTown gave people one more reason to come and shop in Spokane. As a result, both NorthTown, and the region benefitted.
For Sabey to suggest downtown Spokane be tagged as cannibalizing NorthTown seems disingenuous. Wasn’t it David Sabey who first bought the building for the downtown J.C. Penney store and helped orchestrate the relocation of Penney’s to NorthTown? Didn’t Sabey purchase and then take into bankruptcy the downtown-based Crescent/Frederick & Nelson store?
Even now, if anyone is trying to bite into NorthTown, it would seem the biggest jaws would be found not in downtown, but in the new Spokane Valley Mall.
That development, near the intersection of Sullivan Road and I-90, poses a far more significant threat to NorthTown when it opens in August.
Shoppers from both the Spokane Valley and Spokane’s South Hill will be closer in driving time to the Valley Mall than to NorthTown. And, unlike downtown, the Valley Mall will have much the same retailing mix as NorthTown, including a Bon Marche, a J.C. Penney and Sears.
But again, the point is that NorthTown likely will be able to compete on the basis of having good people, good stores, good marketing. With a strong downtown, a strong Valley Mall and a strong NorthTown, Spokane becomes an bigger retail center for people within hundreds of miles.
Competition strengthens the market. Isn’t that what capitalism and business are all about?
Now, look at the second issue of telling people to “shop at home” as a way to keep the economy of North Idaho afloat.
This seems odd coming from Hagadone, the major player in North Idaho’s tourist industry.
Kootenai County, more than any place in Idaho except Sun Valley, lives and dies on tourism.
Tourists, by definition, come from someplace else.
Tourists do not shop at home.
If anything, North Idaho probably need more people from distant places deciding not to shop at home but, instead, coming to Idaho to spend their time and money, build a vacation home, or at least spend a few nights at the beautiful Coeur d’Alene Resort.
And, if Kootenai County residents begin shopping at home more, does this suggest Spokane residents shop at home, too?
Spokane people make more visits to North Idaho than anyone else, particularly after Labor Day and before Memorial Day when the Californians are gone but the Spokane tourists are still antiquing, having dinner and looking for real estate.
A look at the map will show Spokane and Kootenai counties still represent one very close neighborhood in a very big world.
The big economic issues facing the Inland Northwest have very little to do with local businesses cannibalizing one another or local people shopping at home.
The better perspective is to recognize Spokane and Kootenai counties must compete in a global environment where businesses and tourist towns vie for the attention of people all over the globe - people who have a choice of where to shop, recreate and live.
Seattle and Portland are cannibalizing us, where people are finding better jobs, a high quality of life, and better shopping.
Sun Valley and Palm Springs aren’t asking people to shop at home. Instead, they are saying, come shop with us and don’t bother in North Idaho.
The Inland Northwest remains a fabulous place to live with potential to be even better. But we must give people more reasons to visit and live here.
Let’s not get confused and eat our neighbors while the real threat to our prosperity lies elsewhere.
, DataTimes MEMO: Chris Peck is the editor of The Spokesman-Review.
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