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Retail survey of Hays offers new twists to similar results





A few surprises jumped out alongside the somewhat predictable findings of a recent retail survey conducted by the Ellis County Coalition for Economic Development.

Prompted by the desire to more fully understand why Hays residents might be shopping out of town, a retail committee, which had been part of the ECC three years ago, was reconvened to take another look at Hays' retail climate.

"The first thing we thought was, community input was really important to get a feel for what the community is leaving the area for," said ECC Executive Director Aaron White.

"It's a starting point."

With more than 1,100 responses obtained through a variety of formats, respondents from six demographic groups participated: teenagers, college students and recent graduates; families with young children; families with older children; empty nesters and families with children out of the house; retirees; and others.

Not surprisingly, according to White, the top four shopping destinations outside Hays being frequented by respondents included Salina, Wichita, Kansas City and online sources.

Although the No. 1 item purchased outside of Hays was apparel, respondents identified barbecue restaurants as being the one sector missing from Hays retail and restaurant businesses.

"That was across all six demographic categories," White said. "Barbecue is a top listing in terms of what's missing in this community.

"Several different clothing styles also were mentioned ... whether it's teen or young adult, men's clothing, women's clothing."

In addition, whole foods including organic and fresh produce, Italian, seafood and steakhouse restaurants also appeared on the list of missing businesses.

"It was surprising considering that apparel was the No. 1 thing listed for shopping for out of town," White said. "It's not necessarily what people are saying we need to see in Hays."

Another result, White said, he found unsurprising was families with young children identified a need for children's clothing retailers while retirees and empty-nesters stated a need for seafood and Italian restaurants as well as higher-end shopping opportunities.

Target was high on the list of retailers the respondents would like to see in Hays. Others included Hobby Lobby, Kohl's, Dick's Sporting Goods, Old Navy and Victoria's Secret. Restaurants included Olive Garden, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Red Lobster, Buffalo Wild Wings Grill & Bar and Chili's Grill & Bar.

White said the survey provides an opportunity for ECC to open a conversation with existing Hays retailers, pointing out what products or services respondents said are missing from the local retail environment. It's possible, White said, those products and services are offered in the community and the public simply is not aware.

Through partnerships with the Downtown Hays Development Corp. and Hays Area Chamber of Commerce, the ECC will work with businesses who might be interested in improving their presence in the community.

"If there's nothing they can do or want to do to meet demand the community is saying is there, then we'll start looking at outside sources to provide it," he said. "We'd love to grow it internally first, if possible.

Retail survey results can be obtained by calling the ECC (785) 628-3102 and will be made available on the ECC website, www.ellisco.org at a later date.