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Time to try

Sep 22, 2017 By Steven R. Peck, Publisher

Ask anyone involved in economic development, and you'll hear the same thing: Rule No. 1 - preserve what you already have.

Over the past week, since Riverton learned that the big Safeway store was set to shut down in October, there has been talk of a community response that might save the store.

It would be a long shot, and some local leaders have expressed understandable doubt whether such an effort would do any good. For some, the guiding sentiment is, "There's really nothing we can do."

Of course there is. We can try.

Bad business news comes to all communities from time to time. In Riverton's case, the community, in a variety of private/public partnerships, has made organized efforts to preserve businesses in the past.

When Cream O'Weber announced plans to close the last commercial dairy in the city, a delegationwent to Cream O'Weber officials at the regional level, where a combination of protest, encouragement and negotiation maintained dairy operations in town for several more years.

When railroad service was designated for abandonment, a similar effort, including an in-person delegation from Riverton to big-city headquarters, succeeded in delaying the abandonment of service, and the preservation of the local train depot, which now is on the National Register of Historic Places.

More recently, the City of Riverton rolled out the red carpet for Walmart, providing price breaks on city services to help spur construction.

The city also made a deal on utilities to help the Wind River Casino get off the ground.

Currently, the City of Riverton has made guarantees of at least $200,000 to attract and help preserve local airline service.

These are things communities do. So why not make an overture to Safeway, and its parent company, Albertsons?

Does the store really have a lease problem with the landlord? Perhaps a local real estate development group could buy the property. The store certainly appears busy, but if it's losing market share to the internet, then tell us how much store traffic would turn the tide. "Shop local" promotions are popular and successful here.

Is the pending North Federal rebuild worrying Safeway? Perhaps the contractor would agree to prioritize street work on that block. Access to Safeway already will be easier via the Pershing side entrance than it's going to be for some other North Federal stores. We'll help with newspaper promotion reminding customers how to get there. Are there other factors we don't know about? Property taxes? Utilities? Parking? Security? The neighbors?

So far, all we've been getting is corporate talk of an "underperforming store." That doesn't give the community much to go on. If we knew more, even confidentially, maybe someone could help.

Could a cadre of municipal leaders, economic development officials, shoppers, and perhaps a state legislator or two travel to meet Albertsons executives to make a personal appeal? Let's get some local bigshots together in an SUV and drive to Boise, or Denver, or Salt Lake City for a meeting.

Could we at least buy some time? This announcement came out of nowhere. Our community, which has supported a Safeway store for most of a century, deserves a chance to help the store do better. (In case you're wondering: Is Safeway a newspaper advertiser? Darned right it is.)

Could a petition drive be started, both on paper and online? Could we collect signatures for a series of advertisements and publish them in The Ranger and ondailyranger.comas some political candidates do? We'll donate the space and send the papers to Albertsons.

Could another owner come in to the Safeway premises? Since Albertsons bought the Safeway chain some Safeways have become Albertsons stores. The Ridleys Family Market chain has acquired some Safeway properties after Albertsons shut the doors. Let's be sure Ridleys knows this is happening (it probably already does). Mr. D's used to have stores in both Lander and Riverton. The Lander store is still there. Might the local owners cast their eyes Riverton's way now?

Riverton won't dry up and blow away if Safeway leaves. Smith's Food and Drug has a nice store in town, and Lander has its own Safeway and Mr. Ds store. The aforementioned big-box giant on North Federal has a full grocery line as well.

And, for all we know, there may be a master plan to close the Safeway store one day and open it the next under a different name. As always, the gossip crop is bumper, and the rumor mill is running a double shift.

But we are being told the store is being shut down. Losing Safeway would be a blow to Riverton and Fremont County. We are a better community with it than without it.

Preserve what we have. When there is trouble, every avenue ought to be explored in searching for a remedy. There is precedent in town for making the effort. It doesn't always work. But that result is guaranteed if we don't even try.

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2017-10-18