Archive for Sunday, January 1, 2012

Kansas towns adapting after losing Duckwall stores

January 1, 2012


— Envelopes, paper clips, quick and easy meals, socks. You name it, Duckwall stores in northwest Kansas carried it. That is until the parent company, Duckwall-Alco Stores Inc., decided to close its Duckwall stores at the beginning of 2011, leaving residents in Atwood, La Crosse, Ness City and Plainville without a variety store and those grab-it-and-go items.

But some of the towns are on the rebound. La Crosse residents teamed up shortly after the closure to open their own investor-owned store, Post Rock Variety.

“It was not the easiest thing to do,” said Judith Reynolds, a member of the five-member management team for the store. “I think that it has progressed.”

Inexpensive food items, for which there was a demand, toys, cards, craft supplies and more are offered at the store, picking up where Duckwall left off. And hunting supplies and licenses also are sold.

“Hunting has become a market demand in Rush County,” Reynolds said.

Five part-time employees keep the store going, and more than a dozen investors are backing the store.

“It’s getting better all the time,” Reynolds said.

The other three communities haven’t been quite so fortunate, but both Atwood and Ness City are closing in on deals to bring a locally owned variety store into service.

“We hope to open a variety store in the spring or early summer,” said Julie Britton, Rawlins County economic development director.

Britton said she’s been working to find a store for Atwood for nearly a year and thinks she’s finally found the right person for the job.

“We plan to replace 75 percent of the original merchandise that was in there, and the other 25 percent we’ll acquire from other distributors, so I think it’s all going to come together really well,” Britton said.

Dale Staab, Ness County’s economic development director, said he still is working with a potential candidate on a finance package to open a local variety store, too.

The Duckwall building in Ness City already has been leased as nonretail space, but he hopes the store still can become a reality.

“We miss it here,” Staab said of Duckwall. “I still hear comments just about weekly about ‘When are we going to get one?’”

Other retail stores in Ness City and Plainville have tried to step up, expanding offerings to make up for the loss of Duckwall.

“Some of the local stores have picked up some of the products ... that were most in demand,” said Roger Hrabe, Rooks County’s economic development director.

He said Dollar General had approached him even before Duckwall’s closing announcement about putting in a store in Plainville, and Staab said he had had the same communication. However, both projects stalled when the chain decided to pull back on its expansion plans.

Though there has been no progress made on finding a replacement in Plainville, Hrabe said he continues to have conversations with local residents and corporate businesses.

“We lost employers that had a lot more jobs than what Duckwall’s did, but the idea of what they carried, it was very convenient,” Hrabe said.

And now, Staab said, it’s likely residents are doing more of the Duckwall-type shopping when they are in Hays.

“With us only being an hour away from Hays and the fact that people come into Hays for doctor’s appointments ... Hays has benefited a little bit more because people are doing more of that when they go to Hays,” Staab said.


average 6 years, 4 months ago

The Alco half of the chain is still around. For the most part, they've stayed one step of town just below what a Walmart requires. There are a few places where Alco has held on despite Walmart (Pratt is the one that came to mind... impressive with the small market, but Dodge City and Newton too). Duckwall was the small-small town 5-and-dime side. Dollar General's expansion into most Kansas towns of 2-4000 filled that niche in many cases.

One reason Alco-DUCK has stayed in business compared to other regional retailers was targeted investments by the KPERS fund in Kansas-based businesses in the 80s-90s. Which had positive impacts for the state, yes (critically important for places like Ellsworth, Garnett, or Smith Center trying to avoid ghost-town status). But, from the perspective of growth of KPERS contributions, effectively betting against Walmart in the 80s was one of the worst bets I can think of.

Although I'm from a larger town that lost Alco in the early 80s, I'd stop in several of them passing through. I've thought for a while that Eudora could really support one, and a not-insignificant number of people from Lawrence, at least commuters, would shop there on occasion. I would. But, I don't think they have the capital to do such a build now, and if the SLT is ever finished the Eudora market gets much closer to the South Iowa Strip.

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