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Our Opinion: Keeping big boxes filled

February 01, 2002

There is a chance that the only remaining Kmart in the Imperial Valley, in El Centro, could close after more than 25 years in the area. The problem is not that the Imperial Valley cannot or does not support the local business. The problem is the Kmart corporation has had to file for bankruptcy protection.

The company will be looking at closing a large number of stores throughout the nation. We are concerned that ours will be one, although the store seems to do solid business. Still, shelves that don't appear to being refilled quickly may point to something.

We certainly hope our Kmart survives the round of closures. We also think there are steps local officials can do to protect the Kmart. It makes sense that the Kmart stores that remain open will be the ones that are flourishing. So it follows that if you as shoppers like the store and would like to see it stay, you should shop there.

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We also think it makes sense to think that Kmart will be more likely to remain in communities that show they want the company there. To that end, El Centro officials might consider setting up a meeting with Kmart officials to voice the city's interest in holding onto the business.

The point is we don't want to see another empty "big box" in the city, particularly along the city's main drag. Drive along Imperial Avenue and you see too much blight. The vacant former homes of Builders Emporium, Office Depot and Heilig-Meyers all line the city's main drag. Such closed buildings create the impression the city is in decline.

Mayor Larry Grogan said recently the city of El Centro is going to increase its efforts to market itself — the goal being to attract companies to fill the big boxes. It's a worthy effort and one that should be ongoing.

If El Centro does lose Kmart, the city needs to be in a position to fill that and any other vacant buildings along Imperial Avenue.

While we are on the topic, there now may be some concern that Toys R Us is closing 64 stores of its stores. We do not think its store in Calexico is going to close because Toys R Us has indicated it will not close recently remodeled stores such as the Calexico facility. The store seems to do good business, but there still is some concern. Toys R Us, like Kmart, provides much-needed jobs and tax revenues.

Just as El Centro city officials should work to keep Kmart, Calexico officials should put forth the effort to assure Toys R Us continues its operation here.

It's called being proactive. That is what our officials must be if they are going to protect jobs, fill big boxes and boost the economy.

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