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Editorial: What retail would you like in Albert Lea?

Albert Lea has many good things going for it, whether its the downtown streetscape, the dredging of Fountain Lake or a positive entrepreneurial spirit. 

While there are several strong local retailers — some who have been here for decades — there is definitely room for more retail growth, particularly with the loss of Shopko and Herberger’s in the last year.

According to the latest community survey, only 18% of respondents positively rated the shopping opportunities in Albert Lea.

To address these concerns, city staff, the Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce and the Albert Lea Economic Development Agency on Tuesday hosted an open house to get feedback about what types of retail areas residents would like to see. The city has also hired a consultant, Retail Strategies LLC., to promote the community and its retail opportunities. Work is also being done by the city, chamber and ALEDA to apply for the Main Street program, which focuses on economic vitality, design, promotion and organization as its four pillars and aims to harness the assets of a community to lead to tangible outcomes that benefit the entire community.

While the standards of some national retailers do not make it plausible to have them in Albert Lea — things like population, income levels, demographics, etc. — there are other opportunities, both for chain stores and independent stores.

Some of the gaps the people addressed at the open house Tuesday were a need to fill the vacancy left by Herberger’s, with both clothing and other general items, and a desire for a store like TJ Maxx or Stein Mart and an Italian restaurant, among others.

If people who were not able to attend the meeting but would like to contribute ideas about retail needs in the city, they can email info@ci.albertlea.mn.us or call 507-377-4330.

Moving forward, the city’s consultant firm, Retail Strategies, will target national retailers with the information gathered, and the city, chamber and ALEDA staff will target independent retailers.

One thing we were impressed to see while watching the recap of the forum was all the positive things the people in attendance had to say about the community.

Some had lived in Albert Lea most of their lives; others had moved there more recently. But they were proud of the community and all it has to offer.

We look forward to seeing action being taken to promote retail opportunities here — not only for community members, but visitors as well.