Steve Kimmel isn't stressing over the empty spot in Huntington Plaza that J.C. Penney used to fill.
The New York company that owns the shopping center on North Jefferson Street in Huntington has reduced the price to help attract a new tenant, he said. The parking lot is being resealed and striped.
“They're trying to make it look nice,” said Kimmel, executive director of the Huntington Chamber of Commerce. “Really, that's about all we can do is put our best foot forward and hope somebody will see an opportunity.”
Huntington was on the list of communities that J.C. Penney decided to pull out of this summer. The small community southwest of Fort Wayne still has a Goody's, but not many medium-sized stores comparable to J.C. Penney, Kimmel said.
Other major national retailers, including Sears and Macy's, which are among the anchors at Fort Wayne's Glenbrook Square, have also announced store closings in other markets in the past year.
There's not much that can be done locally when struggling national retailers are forced to shutter stores, said Mark Wickersham, executive director of the Huntington County Economic Development Corp.
“Our industrial base continues to be strong, and as a result of the strength in our industrial base, the locally owned retail establishments have done well,” Wickersham said.
Kimmel said many Huntington area residents don't think twice about a roughly 25-mile drive to Fort Wayne for shopping – or other reasons, including work.
So Huntington's best hope of having a thriving retail base is to continue to foster unique stores that become destination spots, he said.
Antiqology, which makes hundreds of different root beers and sodas, offers an ice cream shop and sells antiques, is one existing example Kimmel points to in Huntington. The Party Shop, which makes its own candy – such as turtles – is another.
Kimmel also sees potential for Huntington to become more of a regional retail draw through arts-oriented businesses – those that might sell items such as paintings and sculptures.
“We just have to kind of reinvent ourselves a little bit,” he said.