The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Reality Check

June 25, 2008

Our lost retail dollars

ASHTABULA – Google these words: “Ashtabula County retail per capita.”

Chances are the lead reference will be the 2002 U.S. Census Bureau State and County QuickFacts. Scroll down the long list of data, and you’ll come to the figure that sums up the retail expenditures made by each Ashtabula County resident in 2002: $8,383.

That’s a figure of great interest to retailers researching new locations.

“It has a huge a impact on it,” says Jim Timonere, Ashtabula Area Chamber of Commerce president. “The reports you receive are the same reports others look at when they are considering locating here.”

While $8,383 is not small change, it pales in comparison to the 2002 Ohio figure: $10,497. That’s roughly $2,000 per person that was not spent here on things like flat-screen televisions, new cars, iPods and designer jeans, but was spent elsewhere in Ohio.

Research what is spent in neighboring counties like Lake County and the discrepancy is even greater: More than $5,000 per person in that county was spent on retail than in Ashtabula County.

Timonere knows where a chunk of that money being spent in neighboring counties is coming from, and he’s unhappy about it. A 2004 Retail Market Analysis conducted by The Ohio State University revealed that Ashtabula consumers spent $63 million on goods purchased outside the county. Whether it’s from Internet sales or a 45-minute trip to the Millcreek Mall, this exodus of retail dollars is reshaping the local retailing landscape like a bulldozer leveling a once prosperous community.

“That is huge,” Timonere says of the retail leakage. “We got to figure out how to stop people from going to Mentor and Erie to shop.”

The study showed for every person in Ashtabula, there was $1,737 in retail leakage to other markets. For Geneva, the figure was $2,309.

The cities of Warren, Mentor, Erie, Pa., all showed per capita surpluses, indicating they were destinations for shoppers.

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