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Peru Mall is not alone: struggles reflect national trend

Although Peru Mall officials declined an interview for this story, they have been in regular communication with Peru city officials.

Bob Vickrey, Peru’s economic director, and Justin Miller, Peru’s finance officer, said city officials speak with mall officials at least twice a year and have had five sit-down meetings since last October and one conference call in July. The most recent being on Aug. 7 with more expected this month.

“We’re working together to ensure there’s not something we could be doing for them,” Miller said.

Vickrey said the city has helped businesses in the past by offering sales tax rebates, TIF districts and enterprise zone incentives, but was not familiar with any sort of incentive being given to the mall.

He said Peru has a longstanding and positive relationship with the Peru Mall and both parties are looking forward to working together on "an exciting Peru Mall do-over."

The Peru Mall has been a catalyst in attracting retailers to the north end of Peru over the years and Vickrey called the site “arguably the most valuable piece of retail real estate in a several-county region.”

“You’d be hard pressed to find a vacant piece of ground with that much retail around it,” Vickrey said.

Davidowitz said the loss of two anchor stores is usually a precursor to harder times ahead, but growth is possible with a fresh idea to attract customers.

If a mall continues to lose stores, Davidowitz said this tends to hurt their communities, which have grown to rely on the sales tax, but it might not be the same for the city of Peru given the amount of growth the mall has already sparked on the north side.

“The growth is not going to go away. Target and Walmart are not going to go away, but nevertheless you’ve got a lot of bad things,” Davidowitz said. “There’s job loss, loss of tax revenue and it’s a blight on the town. There’s a lot of negatives here, but the off-the-mall stores will continue and be just fine.”

The Peru Mall used to be a larger contributor to the city’s sales tax basis, but Miller said the city has seen its largest growth in sales tax revenue over the last decade.

“Still, every sales tax dollar is important,” Vickrey added.

Even with the loss of some larger stores at the mall, Vickrey said that several other stores inside the mall are doing "extremely well."

He is confident that while some customers may follow the departing companies by going online, most will spend their money at other local stores.

“Almost every city nationwide is keeping its eye on the online marketplace and how it may impact local businesses,” Vickrey said.

Vickrey said urban areas may be hit harder by the growing online marketplace where it’s harder to visit local businesses, while smaller communities tend to support local brick-and-mortar shops as it’s easier to stop at a local business over a customer’s lunch hour or on the way home from work.

“The money being spent at Sears or J.C. Penney is not going to leave town,” Vickrey said.

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