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Retail advocates call city a regional shopping magnet

Retail advocates call city a regional shopping magnet

Mall manager Rusty Strodtman says retail development deserves higher funding priority
Columbia Mall General Manager Rusty Strodtman said he was shocked by the large numbers of leather-clad bikers who were strolling through the shopping center last summer – but in a good way.
Every day of the National Bikers Roundup at the Boone County Fairgrounds, many of the participants came to the mall and spent money, Strodtman said.
Conversely, the Roots ‘n Blues ‘n BBQ festival that same year, which drew even more visitors than the bikers’ event, didn’t bring much traffic to the mall. Instead, most of those tourists spent their money in downtown shops and restaurants when they weren’t listening to music.
The mall also doesn’t typically get a bump in business during college graduation weekends and even MU football weekends when the game is played in the early afternoon. But Strodtman said the mall traffic does increase if football games and other college-related events are held at night or over a period of two or more days and visiting fans spend the night at local hotels.
VB Marketing Manager Beth Mead, left, and Interim Executive Director Amy Schneider spoke at the forum along with Forum Development Group director Jay Lindner
High school athletic and academic events that last several days bring the largest sales increases at the mall, followed by the Show-Me State Games during the summer, he said.
While the dynamics change, depending on the reason the visitors are coming to Columbia, Strodtman and other advocates of the retail industry pointed out that the local economy gets a healthy boost from out-of-town shoppers.
Overall, 75 percent of the mall’s business comes from 12 counties surrounding the city, he said during a CBT forum — Enhancing Columbia’s Reputation as a Shopping Destination.
Jay Lindner
Amy Schneider, interim director of the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, cited statistics from a Missouri Department of Tourism survey that determined the average expenditure per trip in 2010 was $155. Half of the tourist surveyed said they shopped during their visits, and 30 percent said shopping motivated the trips.
“If you get the bodies here, they’re going to start shopping,” Schneider said.
Strotdman and Jay Lindner, head of the Forum Development Group, said retailers would like the city to place a higher priority on selling Columbia as a shopping destination and as a good place to hold business functions.
Scheppers Distributing GM Mike Radzin
Special Business District director Carrie Gartner pointed out that the marketing budget could increase next year after the downtown area becomes a Community Improvement District. The City Council could then agree to ask voters for permission to levy a half-cent sales tax within the district, which the mall area already has in place, and use a portion of the estimated $300,000 in additional annual revenue to promote downtown tourism.
Schneider said while the city has been successful in persuading organizers to bring sporting events to Columbia, “we don’t do a good job recruiting businesses” to hold conferences and large meetings in Columbia.”
When they convince organizers to make a scouting visit, “nine out of 10” will go ahead and schedule the event here, Schneider said. More of the business meeting market is going to Lake of the Ozarks and Branson because people perceive there is more to do in those areas than Columbia, she said.
The group discussed marketing Columbia’s shopping and tourist attractions directly to small towns in Missouri. The Missouri Community Improvement District program has found that tourists and shoppers are attracted to communities that are clean and safe. Beautification programs are also listed as possible beneficiaries of the downtown sales tax revenue.
Chamber of Commerce Vice President Kristi Ray said the city also needs to get better at persuading local residents to do their shopping locally. “Columbians have to learn to support their own.”
Community Events owner Sean Spence
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