Chart of the Day: Retail Spending Trends in Wausau

Yes, I know Wausau is in Wisconsin, but this Wall Street Journal article seems both locally important and interesting, and Wisconsin seems close enough to Minnesota right now.

Check out this chart, showing growth in online retail in Wausau, Wisconsin, and the US:

One big takeaway is that people seem to like small, local businesses, and going downtown. Here’s a quote from the piece:

The numbers back up Ms. Magnuson’s experience. Based on data from payments processor Square Inc., sales at small-business sellers in Wausau that use its system rose 35% over the past year while the number of sellers remained constant. That shows “just how much these small businesses are thriving,” according to Square.

Mike Fondow said he can’t remember the last time he went to a mall. The 33-year-old computer-network specialist split this year’s Christmas shopping between online for an electric blanket and car floor mats, and locally owned shops for books and fermented black garlic. His favorite find was a sampler of Wisconsin-sourced teas for his mom, which he picked up at a farmers market.

“I like supporting the local businesses, and the downtown has more unique shops,” Mr. Fondow said.

I was at the Mall of America the other day to try and find a MN UFC scarf. One of the few places to get one was the RAAS pop-up “local market.” That stands for “Retail as a Service” for some reason (?!), but the little place was thriving.

Imagine if you could shop at local businesses in walkable urban areas? It’s theoretically possible.

11 thoughts on “Chart of the Day: Retail Spending Trends in Wausau

  1. Mike B

    One thing the WSJ article failed to mention clearly, and an aspect I found interesting, is that the failing mall, Wausau Center is literally downtown. Its front doors open to the bustling downtown district where there is currently no vacant storefronts. It is not 12 miles out via freeway with miles of surface parking lots. 8 downtown city blocks were destroyed to build it. This scenario is as unique as the demographics of Wausau; extraordinary high percentage of middle-class income earners. The redevelopment possibilities here are endless.

      1. Andy E

        Bill, what do you mean by this? I grew up less a half hour south of Wausau and always enjoyed their downtown.

          1. Andy E

            Oh, definitely. That was well before my time – I’ve only known it with the mall in place.

            I will say that despite the mall, the part of downtown north of the mall is very pedestrian friendly. Wide sidewalks, slow driving speeds (20 MPH is the norm I believe), lots of bike racks. That mall is slowly dying, and will probably follow what happened to Steven Point’s (30 miles south of Wausau) mall.

            In Point’s downtown a mall ran from the shopko to MSTC, completely blocking 3rd street and connecting to the Children’s museum. About a decade ago they started ripping the mall out and moving MSTC into the old JC Penny and rebuilding the road network. Google maps are out of date but most of that areas has been rebuilt with a wide mix of retail/hospitality/housing/office space put in.

  2. Janne Flisrand

    This is playing out in downtown Minneapolis, too.

    One of the most common refrains I heard doorknocking this year was how hungry people are for retail in downtown — unique, local shops to make an event out of going downtown, as well as basics for the 40,000 people who live downtown.

    Unfortunately, we’ve created retail spaces that are disproportionately giant, mall-anchor-sized spaces that don’t work for what customers want.

    I haven’t yet seen Downtown leaders or property owners responding. I’m curious how many ideas readers have for how the City can encourage building owners and developers to add to the value of Downtown when they are benefitting from it.

  3. Dana DeMasterDana DeMaster

    That pretty much sums up my holiday shopping and most of my shopping for that matter. Locally I spend a large proportion of shopping time on Grand Ave and Selby Ave. This year people are getting gifts from Mischief Toys, Sixth Chamber Books and Games, Treadle Yard Goods, and St Vincent’s Thrift Store (not on Grand or Selby). The other half has been online, particularly for those out of town because it’s easier to ship direct (often for free) than go to the post office.

    I would love more retail in downtown Saint Paul. It would keep me down here longer after work and make it a more attractive destination on the weekend. Thinking about shopping last weekend we had two destinations, but ended up stopping at a cafe for a hot cocoa and scones and wandering in and spending money at an unexpected third. I would do that downtown if I had the option.

    Malls, ugh. BTW, Bill, what were you at the MOA for? Surely not just for getting a scarf. I find malls overwhelming and loud.

  4. Karen

    I hate, hate to shop, in malls, but my mom was recovering from knee surgery and asked me to take her out shopping and we too hit the shops on Selby and Grand and a stop at present things in attractive and appealing ways and know their local audience and nice neighborhood seetings. Love places like Eggplant Farm supply, Vibrant, Patina, Martha’s Garden. And eating at restaurants along Selby far better than hitting the food court at the mall.

    There is a place for great retail wherever the built environment allows it, but too often the way things are built these days, there aren’t the small places that encourage small start ups.

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