Big-box retailers topic of talk

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STEAMBOAT SPRINGS -- "Big box" has been the biggest buzzword on the Steamboat Springs retailing scene this year, and Karl Steidtmann, chief economist for Deloitte Research, will talk Thursday about how national trends and brands are impacting the Yampa Valley.

He will speak at 1 p.m. Thursday during Economic Summit 2004 at the Steamboat Grand Hotel.

"I am going to talk about the changing face of U.S. retailing, its growing role in economic development and the importance of retailing as a reflection of 'place' in a community," Steidtmann said.

Steidtmann devotes his professional life to economic forecasting of retail sales activity as well as spotting consumer and technological trends. He has personal insight into Steamboat's economic situation because he spends a portion of the year here.

Steidtmann thinks it is worthwhile to take steps to preserve independent businesses in Steamboat.

"The independents are under siege and have been for some time, he said. "I will talk about the consolidation that is taking place in retail and what it means to towns like Steamboat. Keeping independent businesses that are unique is critical to maintaining a sense of place that is being lost in many parts of the country."

Steamboat has lived with a few big-box retailers for more than a decade. However, new commercial centers being built here have heightened the sense that the local retailing scene is about to change forever. Steidtmann said it's important to realize there are at least three distinct groups of consumers here, and they have different desires and expectations.

Tourists are not what Steidtmann would describe as "destination shoppers."

"Most of the shopping done by visitors in Steamboat is not destination shopping. It is impulse shopping," he said. "Tourists do not come to Steamboat to shop. It is more like a free gift with purchase. They come here for a lot of other reasons but they will shop if there is something that is unexpected."

While they may find the same national brands here as they have at home, they also expect to find unusual goods offered by one-of-a-kind shops.

"If all they found here were the chain stores and restaurants that they had at home, then yes, they would be disappointed," Steidtmann said. "As the number of independent stores and restaurants shrinks, the value and importance of the remaining independents grows, which is why I am somewhat optimistic about independents.

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