Hicks: brick-and-mortar store closings a ‘natural evolution’

MUNCIE, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) – As online shopping outlets continue to offer a wider variety of products than stores can physically stock, Ball State Economist Mike Hicks says the closing of brick-and-mortar retailers is part of a “natural evolution.” On the heels of the announced closure of the Macy ‘s store at Muncie Mall, leaving JCPenny as the once-popular mall’s sole anchor store, Hicks says this trend isn’t declining anytime soon.

The Star Press reports the Muncie Mall, owned by Ohio-based Washington Prime Group, has been labeled a “non-core, over-leveraged shopping center” that the publication says WPG plans to default on. According to its annual report, the mall had $33.9 million in mortgage debt at the end of 2018.

In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, Hicks says a surge in online sales paired with a recent redistribution of populations are the two main factors that are impacting the success of brick-and-mortar retailers in Indiana.

With the growth of online shopping, Hicks says the state of the Muncie Mall isn’t an isolated case, but rather it could be an indicator of an outdated business model.

“Our capacity to buy a lot of what would otherwise be trip-oriented items on the internet, makes it a lot harder to just run a brick and mortar store right here. There’s real permanent costs of having watches- you know, think about a department store like Kohl’s- watches, shoes, jeans. You know, the traditional department store stuff, it is very difficult to keep anything like the selection that you would have online available and so as American consumers explode their online shopping, that challenges the continued model of a department store, mall, or any sort of brick and mortar retailer like that.” 

While consumers are able to get many products online, Hicks says those sales aren’t the only contributor to the decline of physical storefronts.

“The second thing that I think is really challenged them is the much more rapid urbanization of the population.  And so, places that in 1970 had a relatively high share of the population, so this is when the malls were becoming popular in the 1960s in the 1970s in places like Muncie, and Kokomo and Terre Haute had large malls, because they had relatively large population share, the population is now concentrating in urban places, so Indianapolis, for example, and so when you combine the two:  the movement of people from small towns and rural places into large cities, combined with just growing online shopping, you get the death of a lot of brick and mortar retailers.”

There are smaller factors involved, too. Hicks says today’s consumer generally spends money on experiences and services rather than goods. He says while some malls have added movie theaters and arcades to help combat this, the traditional model for brick-and-mortar stores isn’t holding up.

As vacancies open, some are repurposed with medical facilities, warehouses and recreational activities, but Hicks says he doesn’t see one specific sector moving in and capitalizing on these locations.

Hicks says this natural evolution of brick-and-mortar retailers is a big challenge for those who invested money in Sears or JCPenny, the latter he predicts will be bankrupt by summer time. But for consumers, he says it won’t make a huge impact.

 “Really, this is consumer led. So while we may lament at the disappearance of a mall, the reason that it disappeared is because we didn’t go there anymore.”

Hicks discussed the trend in an interview with Inside INdiana Business.
Hicks also says the brick-and-mortar closings could be due to population redistribution.


Hamilton County’s ‘Wellness Unit’ part of nationwide effort to improve mental health among officers

NOBLESVILLE, Ind. (WISH) — An initiative to improve employee well-being at the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office is among a spate of efforts across the nation to address mental health concerns among officers.

Sheriff Dennis Quakenbush announced the department’s new “Wellness Unit”  — devoted to the physical, mental and spiritual health of its deputies, correctional officers and civilian employees — Friday in a Facebook post.

“Our guys really care about the public,” he said Monday in an interview with News 8. “When you see somebody who’s injured or victimized, it really impacts us… We’re only human.”

The Wellness Unit launched in January with funding approved by county council members and commissioners.

Appointments are held off-site at undisclosed locations to protect the privacy of employees. Supervisors are not briefed on which employees seek counseling or what they discuss during sessions.

Information gathered during counseling sessions will not be used to demote or discipline employees, and will only be disclosed if required by law, including when somebody poses an immediate danger to themselves or others.

The department’s entire staff will receive training related to suicide prevention, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, critical incidents, addiction, mindfulness and officer wellness, the sheriff said.

Nearly 1 in 4 police officers has thoughts of suicide at some point in their life, according to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI); the suicide rate for police officers is four times higher than the rate for firefighters.

Years of daily exposure to stress, trauma and tragedy can have other devastating consequences if appropriate coping skills are not developed, according to Susan Sherer-Vincent, a licensed clinical social worker, certified alcoholism counselor and licensed marriage and family therapist involved in launching the Wellness Unit.

“Think of the hurricanes that come in, in Florida, and think of the palm trees where they bend,” she explained. “But then, what happens afterwards? They go back up. That’s called resilience. We want our officers to bend, not break.”

Until approximately 3 to 5 years ago, officers were often conditioned to “pull [themselves] up by the bootstraps and go to the next call” instead of addressing personal struggles, Sherer-Vincent said.

Cultivating resiliency can be difficult within a law enforcement culture that equates mental health challenges with “weakness,” she said.

“[Officers] are trained to have the warrior mentality,” Sherer-Vincent told News 8. “Truly, they would have been made fun of [in the past for seeking counseling].”

She compared strong, silent officers with underdeveloped coping skills to California’s famed redwood trees.

“They’re pretty sturdy. But what would happen if you took an ax and hit those every single day, day after day, for years? They would eventually fall,” she said.

Quakenbush credits his wife, church and non-law enforcement friends with providing “a really good support system.”

“But sometimes, you need a professional,” he said, urging employees to “talk through” negative emotions instead of turning to alcohol and other substances for temporary relief.

Several internal cases that resulted in disciplinary action during his year-long tenure as sheriff may have been prevented with wellness-focused intervention, Quakenbush said.

He was unable to comment on personnel matters. 

Sources within the department indicated some of the cases involved employees with substance abuse issues that had escalated over time, possibly as a result of work-related stress that had gone unaddressed. 

“I wouldn’t say that [disciplinary action] was happening often,” Quakenbush told News 8. “But seeing it happen and knowing that we probably could have done something about it made it impactful and something that we wanted to make a priority.”

Hamilton County announced its Wellness Unit days after New York City police officials revealed plans to hire a team of psychologists to combat a spike in officer suicides.

On Feb. 13, Indianapolis police officials said they planned to swear in the department’s first full-time therapy dog by the end of March.

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