Larry Kroger, a long time resident of Trotwood and a retired security director, stands near the Sears store that closed earlier this month. ARTICLE: Once a retail hub, Trotwood struggles to compete
Photo: Lisa Powell
Photo: Lisa Powell

Once a retail hub, Trotwood struggles to compete

The proposed closing of Trotwood’s Target store is part of a decades-long decline of an once-thriving northwest retail hub that has been left behind in part because of an industry that prefers interstate exits and higher income demographics.

Target’s planned Trotwood closure (one of eight nationally) follows recent departures by Sears, Cub Foods, Kmart and Best Buy, and the larger-scale demolition of the Salem Mall in 2006.

“Trotwood 20 or 30 years ago had the Salem Mall and Consumer Square,” said Kristofer McClintick, assistant Harrison Twp. administrator. “For the northern, northwest portion of Montgomery County, that was the area to shop.”

Once Target closes in May, the city’s major grocery options will be down to one IGA, and despite an increasingly digital society, Trotwood residents will have to leave the city to purchase high-end electronics.

Longtime local development analyst Doug Harnish, principal at Market Metric$, said a combination of poor transportation access and economics helped end Trotwood’s status as a retail hub.

In a market analysis he did for the city in 2013, Harnish reported the median household income of those within a 15-minute drive of the Salem Mall site was about $36,000 in 2010, compared with roughly $52,000 for both the Dayton and Fairfield Commons malls. And that Salem Mall number had declined 9 percent since 2000, while the other two had increased by double digits.

“If you have a declining number of people and households, and maybe weak economics in a marketplace, it means you have to fight that much harder year over year to grow or even sustain the sales volume,” Harnish said. “For a lot of retailers … if performance has been weak, and the prospects for growth are not very good, those units gravitate to the top of the list for closure.”

HISTORICAL CAUSES

A 1957 Dayton Daily News graphic shows a proposal for an innerbelt roadway linking Dayton’s suburbs and nearly touching the Salem Mall area. After the mall opened in 1966, talks continued, but when a major beltway was finally built in the 1980s, the new I-675 only went through Dayton’s south and east suburbs.

It wasn’t until 1999 – six years after the Mall at Fairfield Commons opened on I-675, and a year after the Lazarus and JC Penney stores at the Salem Mall closed — that the long-discussed Northwest Connector linked Trotwood to U.S. 35. Regional officials had expected the Connector to boost northwest Montgomery County’s economy, but by that point, Trotwood and Dayton’s northwest neighborhoods already had significant negative momentum. Current Trotwood City Manager Mike Lucking now says the Connector moves traffic well but has little economic development value.

And Harnish said another, lesser-known opportunity hurt Trotwood at the beginning. In the 1970s, the federal Housing and Urban Development department was pushing creation of 10 new master-planned cities. Over multiple years, thousands of acres of land were acquired for the proposed town of Newfields, with full build-out calling for more than 30,000 residents. Harnish said the plan collapsed after a mere 50 units were built, and much of the land is now Sycamore State Park in western Trotwood.

“The Salem Mall should have been at the center of an urban community with a beltway right on the doorstep,” Harnish said. “They wind up with no beltway and no new community in need of a shopping venue, so they’re out on the urban fringe. … If you look at half-hour drive times, the (Dayton, Fairfield and Salem) malls overlap, and the only area unique to the Salem Mall is to the north and west, where (comparatively few) people live.”

The 2013 Trotwood market study showed 955,426 people within a 30-minute drive of the Dayton Mall, compared to 736,013 for Fairfield Commons and 479,092 for the former Salem Mall site.

Longtime Trotwood resident Larry Kroger said he worked as a security director for Shillito Rike’s, Lazarus and Elder-Beerman. He believes older residents leaving the area and an increase in crime played a role in the loss of retailers in Trotwood.

“Part of it is crime,” Kroger said. “One of my problem stores was at the Salem Mall, which was part of the reason that the Salem Mall store closed,” Kroger said.

Norm Essman, executive director of the Trotwood Community Improvement Corporation, disagreed, and said some current retailers tell him there’s no more crime near Trotwood stores than anyplace else.

Lucking said many of the recent departures aren’t Trotwood issues at all, but the result of a struggling national economy. Value City (immediately replaced by Burlington Coat Factory) and Circuit City, which closed in Trotwood, are out of business everywhere. Cub Foods closed all of its Ohio locations, Best Buy recently closed 50 stores, and Sears, which closed this month in Trotwood, just announced the closure of its flagship store in Chicago. Many analysts agree that the flood of store closings nationwide will only accelerate as online shopping cuts into the need for physical stores.

In his Tuesday letter to the community, Lucking said, “Trotwood has a bright future, but it is one that is not focused solely on retail, and we have the data to support this philosophy.”

SURROUNDING REGION

Just as cities sprouted at river junctions in 1800 and grew along railroad hubs in 1900, development have expanded around highway interchanges.

“Retailers nowadays are really pushing to locate their facilities pretty close to the interstates. You can see Miller Lane is really successful,” McClintick said.

Harnish said interstate access is a huge issue, with recent suburban development clustered at I-70 and I-675 interchanges, as chain stores try to reach the most people with the fewest stores.

The Salem Mall site is four miles south of I-70, but when you do get to the interstate, the interchange is split into two sets of two ramps a half-mile apart. Shortly after Wal-Mart opened a store on the Englewood/Clayton border in 2005 — seconds from an I-70 off-ramp — the company closed its Trotwood store.

“That transportation weakness has been a burden for development inside the northwest quadrant, emanating out from the city of Dayton through Trotwood,” Harnish said.

Derrick Foward, president of the Dayton Unit NAACP, expressed concern about retailers’ trend of leaving low-to-middle income areas. He said there will always be rich and poor communities, but they both deserve access to goods and services.

“This is about classism — taking things out of those communities with minorities and middle-to-low income families and moving them to upper-middle class, wealthy communities,” Foward said. “The same dollars that were traveling to Trotwood or Dayton are just being redirecting to another market. And that deals a devastating economic blow to those communities.”

Clayton Police Chief and interim City Manager Richard Rose said the retail losses in Trotwood affect the entire region.

“As local businesses choose to close stores and move out of the area, it can present problems for our citizens who may need to travel much greater distances to receive the same goods and services,” Rose said. “We’re trying to attract business, but … we don’t need to attract something that is only going to be a competitor to somebody in Englewood or Trotwood who offers the same type of services.”

Barbara Weaver of Clayton said she used to do a lot of shopping in Trotwood before all the big retailers closed. “We lost the Wal-Mart over here, which was the best Wal-Mart around and we lost our Kmart, which was the best Kmart. Englewood’s Kmart is not anything compared to the one we lost in Trotwood.”

Weaver said the one closing that left the greatest impact on her was Cub Foods. “I loved the grocery store. They had good prices. We liked the quality of the food and I knew the store,” she said. “It’s very inconvenient now.”

NEXT FOR TROTWOOD AND THE REGION

The Trotwood market study said national chain stores were very unlikely to return to town, and correctly predicted in 2013 that Sears and Target were likely to close. It also said Trotwood has 3 million square feet of retail space, but needs less than 1 million to serve its residents, since it is less of a regional hub now.

Essman said Trotwood’s retail decline is so noticeable simply because the city had more large stores to start with. The departures leave significant buildings and vacant land that was zoned for retail.

“Through new and creative zoning, we look to industries like logistics, distribution and light industrial companies to turn empty spaces into building assets,” Lucking said in his letter.

The market study suggested Trotwood move from a long commercial corridor to smaller nodes marketed toward serving city residents first, so they do less of their shopping elsewhere. Essman said city officials need to highlight the city’s many developable spaces with infrastructure already on-site — an effort Dayton has been pursuing in recent years.

Harnish’s report also pointed out two decades-long national shifts. One is a decline in locally owned and operated retail stores, as were present in the original Salem Mall, replaced by large national chains whose focus is overall profit, not investment in a local community. The other shows dining and entertainment becoming more important than merchandising, as online sales cut into the need for large stores.

Jason Thomas, owner of Taste restaurant at 2555 Shiloh Springs Road, said the loss of large retailers since he opened two years ago puts a cloud over his business. Although Taste has a great location and business has increased, Thomas said he questions whether his restaurant can survive just by promoting a band and a great menu.

“We rely on retail to make the restaurant flourish,” Thomas said. “It kind of backs us into a corner because we have to become more creative with our marketing.”

Lucking said Trotwood needs to build on a foundation of small businesses and restaurants. Thomas agreed, but also suggested an indoor family-oriented amusement center.

“When I was growing up as a kid, Trotwood was a very nice, upbeat community. It’s just taken a hit and it hasn’t rebounded,” Thomas said.

Montgomery County Commissioner Dan Foley said despite the decline, Trotwood still has retail options, and residents who want that decline to stop should “buy local.” He said the county will support Trotwood’s efforts to redevelop, adding that he wished Target could have adjusted and found a way to be profitable in Trotwood.

Harnish said successful redevelopment happens in strong economic markets, pointing to Menards taking over the Dayton Mall-area Wal-Mart site, and Whole Foods’ plans to build on former restaurant sites in Washington Twp. But Trotwood’s growth and income are weaker, and many retailers prefer starting over in a new, greenfield site.

Thank you for reading the Dayton Daily News and for supporting local journalism. Subscribers: log in for access to your daily ePaper and premium newsletters.

Thank you for supporting in-depth local journalism with your subscription to the Dayton Daily News. Get more news when you want it with email newsletters just for subscribers. Sign up here.

X