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McClatchy-Tribune  07/26/2014 11:17 AM ET
Attracting new retail: How some look to stop the "bleed" of customers leaving the county [The Star, Shelby, N.C. :: ]

July 26--Hundreds of Cleveland County residents leave the county to shop.

Charlotte, Gaffney, Gastonia and Spartanburg attract business -- and tax revenue -- away from the county.

But a movement is starting to keep those sales within county borders.

"We want to stop the bleed of sales going outside the county," said Cleveland County Commissioner Susan Allen. "The highest percentage of our tax base is dependent on property tax. Increasing retail sales would help that."

With more taxes coming from retail outlets, taxpayers face less of a burden to cover county costs.

To combat customers going out of county for their shopping needs, county commissioners have set up a Retail Task Force to help improve sales and attract new retail options to Cleveland County.

The organization began three months ago and is still in its infancy. The group is still in the process of setting goals and objectives, said Allen, the task force's leader.

The Retail Task Force was developed by commissioners earlier this year.

"The ultimate goal is to help identify areas where we can improve retail sales with existing and potentially new retailers," said Commissioner Jason Falls. "So many people go outside the county to shop and spend their money elsewhere. We want to retain that here in Cleveland County."

Shelby Mayor Stan Anthony said the city did a study on retail and saw a leakage where shoppers were traveling to Cherokee and Gaston counties.

"I think the main focus right now is the retail cooridor of Highway 74," Anthony said. "The main thing right now is to identify the issues and challenges and anything we can do to make the area more attractive to retailers."

Important players in the task force are property owners, shop owners, suppliers, farmers and the Chamber, Falls said.

"For most retailers to come to an area, it's a willingness for people to shop in that vicinity," Falls said. "Our residents don't have to spend $10 or $12 on gas to go to Gastonia. More retailers coming here would also be cost saving for our residents and more convenient to their families."

'The whole county'

The task force is committed to the whole county, not just one specific community, said Allen and Falls.

"Areas like upper Cleveland County really need a grocery store. Many of the residents in that area would love to see a chain grocery store," Falls said. "Some of those people drive 30 miles just to buy food."

Falls says he hopes the task force will help identify needs in each community.

"I envision this as a catalyst to work with communities and help identify the possibilities and to drive retail sales," Falls said.

'Thousands driving through'

Thousands of drivers travel down U.S. 74 through Cleveland County every day. But do any stop to shop?

"We have a lot of people coming through the county every day," Allen said. "Some don't stop and continue on."

Cleveland County draws visitors to the Don Gibson Theater, Earl Scruggs Center, county arts councils, plays and wineries.

"We have several points of interest that people could spend a few days enjoying the culture we have," Allen said. "We want those draws to the county to make visitors eat and purchase locally as well."

Signage could be a way to stop drivers into local businesses, she said.

"Within the community for existing businesses, look around and see how you could spruce the surroundings," Allen said. "We are trying to think of innovative ways to make the whole community attractive to shoppers."

What kind of retail options would you like to see come to Cleveland County? The Star's Facebook fans were quick to chime in, with more than 70 responses in about 12 hours. Here's a sample of the response.

Want to be part of the conversation? Find 'The Shelby Star' on Facebook and click like.

Hobby Lobby!

Julie Pearson

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