WENDELL — Local retailers lost out on $18.7 million last year because residents spent it outside Wendell’s town limits, according to a study recently obtained by Wendell town staff.
The study was recently completed by Esri, a New York-based research firm that analyzed retail spending within a 10-mile radius of Wendell. The study showed that Wendell’s 4,843 residents last year spent about $42 million on retail items, but only $23.2 million of it was within one mile of Wendell.
Most of the money spent outside Wendell was on general merchandise, such as clothing, food, and household necessities, as well as furniture and electronics. Wendell auto dealers and building supply dealers last year operated at a healthy level, largely meeting their yearly business potential for the area.
Meanwhile, local florists, lawn and garden stores, and sporting good stores conducted more business than local residents supplied – a sign that many of their customers aren’t Wendell residents. Beth LaNeve confirmed what the data suggested. Like some of Wendell’s most successful retailers, such as Kannon’s and Perry’s Gun Shop, LaNeve said she relied on outside customers to keep her gift shop, Wit’s End, open for 9 years.
“I had more customers from Zebulon, Knightdale and Clayton than I did Wendell,” LaNeve said. “It seems that, unless you’re a destination spot, people just aren’t gonna come.”
And come they didn’t. Before Wit’s End closed last year, LaNeve said a Wendell resident told her: “just because I live here doesn’t mean I owe you anything.”
Nonetheless, LaNeve and most town officials and local business owners said they weren’t surprised by the survey results. They cited the slow local economy and the fact that most residents work outside of Wendell as key contributing factors.
“I think it’s because we’re a bedroom community,” said Kris Morrell of the Mortex Outlet Store. “I’m sure a lot of people stop in Raleigh or at that shopping center in Knightdale on their way home.”
An increase in online shopping may also have contributed to the loss in local retail business, Morrell’s coworker, Sally Mathues, suggested. The study did not determine where or how Wendell residents spent their retail budget outside of Wendell.
The study results may have been expected, but the news was nontheless disheartening to commissioners who frequently encourage Wendell residents to shop locally.
“It saddens me, but I’m not surprised by it,” said Ginna Gray, Wendell commissioner. “Wendell is just not a place where you can get all your shopping done in one place.”
While some saw the data as a caution flag for potential businesses, others saw it as an opportunity to seize $18 million in available retail revenues.
“It’s a really good roadmap for what specific types of establishments Wendell should look to bring in,” commissioner Christie Adams said.
That’s exactly how Wendell staff plans to use the data, Zunilda Rodriguez, Wendell planning director, said. Rodriguez hopes to use the data as a promotional tool to attract businesses. Wal-Mart is considering opening a Wal-Mart Express on Wendell Boulevard, but has yet to commit.
Perhaps an electronics or appliance store could capitalize on the town’s lack of options, Rodriguez suggested.
“Tthe demand is so high, anything would be successful,” she said.