It’s a dog-eat-dog world when it comes to filling empty buildings

The trend of big-box stores and restaurants closing and leaving large empty buildings doesn’t discriminate between rural and metro. Communities large and small are struggling to fill these buildings.

Marshall is also no stranger to the “retail apocalypse.”

Marshall economic development proponents have been chasing their tails for the past decade to fill present large empty buildings. There have been some recent victories such as Ashley’s Furniture and Hobby Lobby soon moving into the old Kmart building.

But then some bad news followed. Last month it was announced all of the Shopko stores including the one in Marshall will be closing the doors for good in June. Just as fast as Marshall is finally filling buildings with viable retail options, another large retail building will become empty in an area that has now become Marshall’s main retail hub.

Another large retail building located on Country Club Drive has been sitting empty since 2014 when County Fair Food grocery store went out of business. Now a company is finally interested in moving its operation there.

Another potential victory, however, is in danger of slipping away.

Unlike the Kmart and Shopko stores, the County Fair building is located next to a residential area. The Country Club Drive location was convenient for grocery shoppers who lived nearby, so five years ago that business was considered a good fit for the neighborhood.

Thursday evening more than 50 people packed into the City Council Chambers to hear the owner of a pet treat business called Chasing Our Tails make the case for a permit that would allow him to operate in the former County Fair supermarket. The fact that 50 people bothered to show up for this hearing is a good indication there is concern among those that live nearby this recent proposal is not a good fit for them. It’s a rarity to get more than 10 people to show up for any government hearing, whether it’s school board, city council or county commission. The recent town hall meetings held during the past month by City Council members have drawn small audiences.

And when Steve Trachtenberg stood at the podium to pitch his proposal to fill a vacant building with viable business and create jobs in the community to the planning commission, the reception wasn’t exactly friendly. Neighborhood opponents to Trachtenberg’s proposal raised two major concerns: truck traffic and potential odors.

The traffic argument is kind of weak. Five years ago, the grocery store required truck deliveries on a daily basis, not to mention the hundreds of daily customers. But the odors concern is a worthwhile issue for City Council members to consider when they take up the proposal Tuesday.

At the planning commission hearing, Trachtenberg denied there would be potential for odors. He explained his operation would be smoking and dehydrating ingredients for pet treats. The facility would also be slicing meats and shipping treats. He said there will be no odor issues with those operations and there has been no odor issues with the Chasing Our Tails production in New Hampshire.

In a column last month in reaction to the Shopko closure, Independent Publisher Greg Orear suggested filling that building and others like County Fair will take some creativity.

“It’s going to take something different,” Orear wrote.

On Thursday, the city of Marshall was presented with “something different” to fill a building that has stood vacant for five years.

The current owners of the County Fair property are seeking a conditional use permit to allow a business to move into the building that is similar to a wholesale business. This permit requires certain conditions to be met, which includes no offensive odors detectable beyond property boundaries. Also, the business doesn’t create negative impacts to adjacent properties.

A conditional use permit can always be pulled by the city if the business violates the terms.

Here’s an opportunity that might be worth a try. The business may actually become a good neighbor to the residents in the Country Club area.

But we will never know for sure if the City Council next week decides against giving Trachtenberg and his dog treats company the opportunity to prove it.