Shopping for space

(First published in the April 11, 2019 issue of City Pages)

It’s not closed yet and already the Shopko building in Wausau is drawing all kinds of interest


Shopko is closing all its stores by this summer, which means the 84,000-square-foot Wausau Shopko will soon be empty

It’s hard to see much good news coming out of the announcement that Shopko is closing all its stores nationwide by this summer, including the Shopkos in Rothschild and Wausau. But at least there’s some light at the end of the tunnel: The Wausau location on 17th Avenue is drawing quite a bit of interest from a variety of different users, a local real estate broker says.

Bill Scholfield says the site is a hot property and seeing interest from businesses large and small. Scholfield recently returned from the International Council of Shopping Centers Conference in Milwaukee, where several developers expressed interest in the building. “We are talking major retailers who would bulldoze the entire center,” Scholfield says, “to those only wanting a few thousand square feet.” Under the latter scenario the building would be divided and used by multiple businesses.

Larger retail stores and shopping centers are disappearing nationwide. According to CityLab, the amount of retail space closing in 2018 just through August (more than 100 million square feet) was the highest compared to any full year since at least 2008. In other words, when the full data for 2018 comes in, it’ll look even worse. And according to US census data, the percentage of retail spending online has continued to rise year over year, with nearly 10% of all consumer purchases made online in 2017, the last year available. All together, CityLab calls it the retail apocalypse.

Wausau already had lost major retailers with the closure of JC Penny, Younkers and Sears. The closure of Shopko will leave Wausau without a single traditional department store within city limits — unless you count Fleet Farm (and let’s face it, they have everything).

But Scholfield is optimistic about the former Shopko space. Rib Mountain Drive still is the hot market for retail, and 17th Avenue connects directly to that Rib Mountain retail corridor. The amount of interest for a variety of uses, including entertainment, coupled with little available land on Rib Mountain Drive, lends credence to that optimism.

Developers have already set their budgets for 2019 and major projects like these take time, Scholfield says, so don’t expect a new use immediately for the 84,000-square-foot building. But don’t expect it to stay empty for long, either. “Putting a quality developer in there is critical,” Schofield says.