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Local News

Seeking more stores

Village may enlist 'big brother' to lure retail

GRAYSLAKE – Grayslake has relatively few retailers. The same goes for Wauconda and the Round Lake area.

Their residents often shop in retail-heavy towns such as Vernon Hills, Gurnee and Libertyville, which get more sales tax revenue as a result.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Vernon Hills, Gurnee and Libertyville got $114,282, $39,387 and $36,941, respectively, in retail sales per capita in 2007, the latest data available.

Grayslake, meanwhile, followed far behind with $11,895 and Round Lake Beach with $11,354. Last among the major Lake County towns was Round Lake, with $1,758.

In Grayslake, officials are considering hiring a firm to help it get more retail to expand the sales tax base.

Last week, the village's Economic Development Commission heard a presentation from Lisa Hill-McKay of Buxton Co., a Texas-based firm that helps towns across the country recruit retail.

The company boasts having a huge database that contains information on millions of consumers. For instance, it has an exclusive agreement with Visa, which helps it track people's spending.

"It's very big brother," McKay-Hill said, "but the reality is that the private sector is making these decisions about you. You need to know your strengths and weaknesses."

Buxton, she said, analyzes many factors, including drive time, and finds businesses that are good matches.

"We use traffic counts. We are following road networks. Retailers don't care about political boundaries, nor do your consumers. We are looking at spheres of influence and competition," she said. "We are looking for retail concepts that fit your market and that have overperforming stores in similar markets."

Bloomington, for example, has increased its sales tax base by 20 percent since Buxton started working with it, she said.

Grayslake's challenge is that it has a lot of competition for luring retail, so the village may have to seek "unique" retailers, McKay-Hill said. The company is not a broker for retail deals, but puts communities in touch with businesses that are matches, she said.

After she left, the commission discussed whether the village should hire the firm, which would charge $150,000 for a three-year contract.

"Obviously, they are very good at what they do," said Phil Harris, the commission's chairman. "They are very bold and upfront, and that's one of their strengths. We don't want someone who is going to tiptoe. Personally, I'm very excited about it. This could be the best $150,000 we have ever invested."

He acknowledged the "big brother" nature of Buxton's work.

"If you don't want to be a part of that, you should move into a cave," Harris said.

The commission recommended the village board hire the firm.

The board is expected to take up the issue next month.

The village has money in its budget available to hire the firm, Kevin Timony, assistant to the village manager, said in an interview the day after the meeting.

"There are capital funds available for economic development-related purposes," he said.

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