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Study sheds light on retail outlook

October 28, 2003|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - If looked at in isolation, Chambersburg may not appear that attractive to major retailers looking for new locations, but a study by the South Center Assembly for Effective Governance indicates those businesses should look at the bigger picture.

The assembly's regional downtown retail drive shed study was reviewed by members of the Greater Chambersburg 21st Century Partnership Monday in the Capitol Theatre. The study looked at travel from the center of town in terms of minutes rather than miles, according to W. Craig Zumbrun, executive director of the assembly.

Looking at the area in five-minute increments of travel gives both retailers in town and those looking for potential locations a better marketing tool, Zumbrun said.

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"Unlike a lot of regions where you have a central large city," Zumbrun said, South Central Pennsylvania has a highway system that allows "easier flow from one retail center to another." In addition to Chambersburg, the drive shed study looked at 11 other Pennsylvania municipalities in the region, including Shippensburg, Gettysburg, Harrisburg, Lancaster, Lebanon and Ephrata.

Representatives of those dozen municipalities plotted out distances that could be covered north, south, east and west in five, 10, 15 and 20 minutes. That information was compared to 2000 U.S. Census data to draw a demographic and economic picture within each of those "polygons," according to Zumbrun.

For example, within five minutes of downtown Chambersburg, there are approximately 20,500 people with an average household income of $43,890, well below the average U.S. household income of $64,338.

Within a 10-minute drive in any direction of the downtown, however, the number of people increases to about 42,000 and the average household income jumps to $50,470.

At 15 minutes, the average numbers increase to 65,000 people with an average household income of $51,254. In the 20-minute polygon, the area population goes to about 98,000, although household income slips to less than $50,000.

At 20 minutes of driving time, retailers have access to people from the Waynesboro, Pa., and Shippensburg areas, as well as Hagerstown, Zumbrun said.

"The threshold family income they are looking for is about $50,000," Zumbrun said of major retailers. The drive shed study thus gives retailers a better picture of the area than census data on just one municipality.

Zumbrun said the next step is a daytime purchasing power study, which will involve shopper surveys, as well as surveys and interviews of merchants and employees in the dozen communities.

The surveys will look at who comes downtown, what they buy, what is available and what businesses should offer to attract more people, according to Zumbrun. He said the surveys will be conducted next spring with results available by the fall of 2004.

"Information like this is useful to present to Target" and other major retailers, said Barry Drexler, executive director of the 21st Century Partnership, a group of government, business and community leaders from Chambersburg and the surrounding townships. He said one thing he expects to come from the merchant and shopper surveys is the need for more cultural events and restaurants to bring people downtown.

"We want to attract retailers, but we also want the retailers in town to better understand themselves," said Paul Cullinane, executive director of Downtown Chambersburg Inc.

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