For whatever reasons, Yakima Valley stores and Yakima Valley shoppers don’t always connect very well. It’s no secret that many retail customers spend their money out of town, especially in the Tri-Cities, Seattle and Portland. That means local residents are supporting jobs at out-of-town businesses and sending revenue to out-of-town governments — and less money overall is circulating hereabout.
Much of this situation stems from consumer dissatisfaction with local shopping options. A 2014 survey conducted by Yakima found only 6 percent of 609 respondents considered the Valley’s retail offerings to be excellent, and 33 percent said they were good. That leaves 60 percent who rated the Valley’s shopping choices as fair at best.
The private and public sectors are responding by trying to lure national retailers to the Valley, but that is a challenge for reasons that won’t surprise anyone familiar with this agriculture-dependent area. Out-of-town stores frequently take one look at the Valley’s income statistics — median household income in Yakima County runs about 70 percent that of the state’s — and quickly cast their glance toward more lucrative markets.
And yet, there is plenty of pent-up demand, along with anecdotes about national retailers’ local outlets doing quite well here. The arrival of a regional or national chain, in the eyes of many local consumers, seems to validate the Valley as a viable locale.
A number of retailers have taken notice, especially in the casual dining and outdoor recreation sectors. But in areas like apparel, accessories and furniture, the number of retail jobs lags behind the rest of the state — a reflection of the shortage of shopping options. Public and private entities are trying to change that, and there have been recent success stories with a number of new outlets coming to shopping areas.
Amid the clamor for regional and national brands, there are locally owned stores that also are not seeing locally generated income, but they face a challenge and opportunity. They may have what consumers are seeking; if not, they need to determine what consumers want, price the items competitively and market them aggressively. On the flip side, consumers can save themselves an out-of-town trip — and maybe save a local job or two — by taking a second look at what is being offered locally.
The idea of keeping local money circulating here is a simple one, but its execution is proving complicated. Nonetheless, local developers and economic development officials are correct in continuing to tell the Valley’s story — the region won’t get anywhere if it sits still in an issue that touches on both economics and quality of life.