Elkader still leads county in sales

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A recent Iowa State University study puts Elkader at the top of the list for total taxable sales, well ahead of surrounding communities.

 

By Pam Reinig

Register Editor

 

According to an Iowa State University study, Elkader remains the retail mecca of Clayton County. That comes as little surprise to established business owners or newcomers like Dawn Medberry, owner of JEM Salon and Spa.

“People have asked me ‘Why Elkader?’ and tell them that once I made the decision to relocate, Elkader was my first and only choice,” Medberry said.

The ISU study shows that Elkader generated 32 percent of all retail sales in the county in fiscal year 2013, the last year for which complete data is available. That’s good news but there’s more: Total taxable sales increased 4.6 percent over the preceding year.

Sales activity in Clayton County was $121.3 million with over $39 million attributable to Elkader. The next closest communities were Edgewood, $18.6 million; Guttenberg, $18.4 million and Monona, $18 million. At the bottom of the list were Luana and Volga, at $1 million each; Garnavillo, $3.9 million; and McGregor, $5.9 million.

The data suggests that a significant number people from outside Elkader come here to spend money.

“Based on communities our size in Iowa, Elkader is expected to have retail sales of $9,000 per resident,” explained Roger Thomas, director of the Elkader Development Corporation. “But the data indicates actual retail sales per resident to be $31,492—$23,000 over the average.”

Since it’s highly improbable that each and every person living here is spending at that level, what the study actually indicates is that merchants are capturing customers far outside Elkader’s geographical boundaries. In even simpler terms: People who don’t live in Elkader are spending money here.

“Economic developers talk about something called a ‘pull factor,’ which is a hypothetical, self-sufficient level of sales,” Thomas said. “A pull factor of 1 is the break-even point. Elkader’s pull factor is 2.85.”

A higher pull factor means a stronger local economy, and that can be a deciding factor for new business development.

Thomas, whose job includes new business development, has little trouble encouraging business owners to locate here. When a downtown storefront becomes available, which is rare, he gets calls about the space almost before it’s vacated. 

“People see Elkader as an affordable place to start a business,” he said. “Plus, we’re  not a seasonal community. Our traffic is year-round, which is due, in part, to the variety of shopping we offer. Also, if a new enterprise means relocation for an entire family, well, people see the high quality of life we offer. It’s not just a great place to shop or do business, it’s also a great place to live.”

In addition to JEM, three other new businesses were established last year in Elkader: Blockhus Plumbing & Heating owned by Kelly and LeAnn Blockhus, the Beauty Bar owned by Caitlin Kuehl and NAPA owned by Drew and Bridget Camp. All four were honored at the January 19th Elkader Community Awards banquet.

NAPA is actually the second business the Camps have opened in town. Camp Powersports was established in June 2010. Elkader’s favorable business climate was one reason the couple recently expanded to include NAPA.

“Camp Powersports was doing well, but I felt like if we wanted to grow we needed to add something  that would draw in more customers,” said Drew Camp. The retirement of Bill Hoth, long-time local NAPA dealer, and the mentorship of Bridget’s parents who own the Strawberry Point NAPA store, were also contributing factors.

Drew said, “One thing about a small town, especially Elkader, is that most people appreciate young business owners who want to stay in town and the residents do a good job of supporting local businesses and buying locally.

Medberry relocated her expanded business to Elkader after running a shop at home for 26 years. 

“I couldn’t see it working in any other small town around here, and I looked,” she said. “And this property is ideal. There’s no other location I’d want in Elkader. I can’t believe the number of people who’ve sat in chairs here and remarked with some amazement on the number of people coming and going. It’s a very, very busy town.”

Medberry added that she was so sold on Elkader and her place in the former Buttery that she had contractors ready to go before she signed her rental contract with new building owners Danielle and Caleb Shea.

Blockhus Plumbing & Heating opened for business last May, and Caitlin Kuehl took over the former Mirror Images at the end of 2014. 

“It’s so encouraging to see the continued growth and expansion here,” said Thomas. “I can tell you, many of many colleagues are envious of what we’ve got to offer in Elkader and envious of both the local and regional support that the town gets. With the variety of shopping and services here, there’s no reason to shop outside of town.” 

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