Steamboat Springs Stagecoach's Michelle Petix needed to make a quick shopping trip before a family vacation in Mexico. Petix was looking for inexpensive clothes and shoes she knew her daughters would soon outgrow and a swimsuit for less than the $80 it would cost her to order one out of the L.L. Bean catalog.
First, she stopped at the Phippsburg thrift store and then made the 90-mile trip to the new Target in Silverthorne.
"There are just not a lot of options in Steamboat," Petix said.
On Thursday, Petix stood in the shoe aisle of the 125,000-square-foot store looking at water shoes. Target is different, she said, from other big-box retail stores. It has better quality, is priced competitively and has a wide variety.
"It has a reputation that precedes it," she said.
Petix is not the first person in Routt County to make the drive to Silverthorne to shop at Target since it opened March 9. In that same afternoon, about a dozen other Steamboat Springs residents were spotted in the store's wide, newly polished aisles.
Target brings into sharp focus a quandary facing the city of Steamboat. The city, which is funded exclusively by sales taxes, needs local residents to spend as much of their shopping dollars as possible at local stores. At the same time, the City Council has indicated a desire to limit the presence of big-box retailers like Target that can offer large inventories of low-cost goods and services and undercut independent, locally owned stores.
Wal-Mart is the only big-box chain in Steamboat.
The rest of America
Before making the drive to Silverthorne, Petix called Target to make sure the inventory was worthy of a trip. It is not the first call that Target's Ellie Rogers has fielded from a Steamboat shopper.
Rogers, who was the manager on duty Thursday, said at least once a day, someone from Steamboat makes a call asking about the store's inventory.
Steamboat shoppers are not the only mountain dwellers who have traveled to Silverthorne just to shop at Target. Rogers said shoppers have come from Salida, Buena Vista and Glenwood Springs.
They come for the electronics, pet supplies, clothes and houseware items, Rogers said.
"We have had an overwhelmingly positive response," Rogers said. "It is just because there hasn't been anything like this for the mountain communities."
A 15-year resident of Summit and Eagle counties, Lisa Guida is a veteran of traveling long distances to shop. Guida attended the store's soft opening on March 5. She was surrounded by sighs of relief and heard one women say she had thought she had died and gone to heaven.
"I don't know if this is heaven, but it is nice," Guida said as she sifted through boys T-shirts Thursday.
It was her third time to the store and she is beginning to question if she needs to make those long trips down to Denver.
"It really is great," she said. "The rest of America has had this for a long time."
Steamboat isn't sure it wants to be like the rest of America. Earlier this month, the City Council held a discussion on controlling commercial growth in general and limiting big-box retailers and national franchises in particular.
Councilman Bud Romberg brought the question of controlling commercial growth before council asking, "when is enough, enough?"
At the heart of his concerns are keeping the downtown storefronts occupied, longtime local businesses intact and the character of Steamboat unique. All three, he feels, could be threatened by big business.
"The concern about when enough is enough is really a concern about what makes Steamboat unique and how do we keep it," Romberg has said.
As the city struggles with keeping big-box retail from eating away its character, it also faces shrinking sales tax revenue.
It sees the money being spent in Silverthorne and elsewhere as money lost in Steamboat.
City Council President Kathy Connell said the council's No. 1 duty is to ensure that sales tax does not decrease and find ways for it to grow.
"That puts us in conflict with ourselves," Connell said.
In the world of Scott Ford, finding ways to keep sales tax dollars and consumer dollars in Steamboat is called plugging leaks.
Ford is the chairman of the Steamboat Springs Economic Development Council and a counselor at the Small Business Development Center at Colorado Mountain College. The EDC is working on a consumer preference study to determine the impacts of money leaking outside of Routt County when local residents shop elsewhere.
Ford, who confesses he has shopped at the new Target, said the Silverthorne store should not have much of an influence on local businesses since local residents have been spending a good chunk of their shopping dollars outside of Steamboat long before March 9.
"The retail leakage is already occurring," Ford said. "Target just moved 50 to 60 miles closer."
Ford said the greatest number of retail consumers at the new Target will be those passing through Silverthorne on their way back from Denver. Drivers will stop by to look for a simple household item like a shower curtain they could not find or did not have time to look for in Denver. And once they enter the store, Ford said, they will probably pick up one or two more items along the way to the checkout counter.
He does not have any statistics to back up his theory, but two Sundays ago Ford gathered some empirical evidence. On his way back from Gunnison, Ford spotted four or five other Steamboat families in Target and most were returning from Denver.
Effect on Wal-Mart
If any local business was to feel the impact of Target, Ford guessed it would be Wal-Mart, another national chain. But Steamboat Wal-Mart Manager Mark Meade said the only impact the store has had in the last few weeks are the delayed trucks from Denver's snowstorm.
"Target is pretty far away and they would be going to Denver and Grand Junction anyway," Meade said.
Ford said Target might turn Silverthorne into more of a shopping experience; meaning Steamboat residents would go there specifically to shop.
The group of Steamboat Springs High School girls that were shuffling through the Target clothes racks Thursday afternoon talked about doing just that.
"Everything in Steamboat is ridiculously expensive," sophomore Kelsey Patterson said. "It is nice not to have to go to Denver to find clothes."
Ford said many of the Target shoppers are like Patterson and not shopping in Steamboat anyway, so bringing a store like Target to Steamboat could plug some of the leakage. That would generate more sales tax dollars, more jobs and more money in the community.
Connell has asked if big-box stores have a place in Steamboat Spring or Routt County. She calls for a regional approach and suggested big-box retail could fit well in the commercial land by the Yampa Valley Regional Airport.
Connell would like to see the sales tax dollars stay in the region, but she also said it is one more way to make Steamboat more affordable.
"To be effective in the future, we need to think about how we can get goods to people in a cost-effective way," Connell said.
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