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Shopko's closure to leave retail gap in small-town Minnesota

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A Shopko retail store in North Branch, Minn.
A Shopko retail store in North Branch, Minn., as seen in March 2019.
Andrew Krueger | MPR News

Shopko's plan to close all its remaining stores in the next few months will leave a retail gap in many small towns across the Midwest, including Minnesota.

Wisconsin-based Shopko plans to close its remaining 120 stores by mid-June.

The chain — particularly through its Shopko Hometown stores — is one of the few large retailers of its kind to have locations in smaller communities.

One city set to lose its Shopko store is Roseau, in northern Minnesota. Community development director Todd Peterson said when the store closes, it won't be a quick drive to the next large retailer.

"For our particular community the closest large discounter would be in Thief River Falls, which is 65 miles (away)," he said. "So it's certainly not something you're just going to run a couple of miles or a few more minutes — it's a significant distance to go."

While online shopping is an option — one that may have helped cause Shopko's demise — Peterson said it'll be tough to not have an in-town option for quick purchases like, say, a new printer cartridge when you run out of ink while printing a document.

"People will have to be much more resourceful, I think, in understanding where they can get things now," he said. "Some of the smaller local retailers maybe will take this as an opportunity to add merchandise that might help."

Peterson said the loss of a store like Shopko, when there aren't many other alternatives, can also make it more difficult to attract new residents to a small town.

"It's not to say we don't have options — we do, we have a wonderful community — but the less options you have, the harder it is for us to be able to sell the community to some people," he said.

Shopko filed for bankruptcy protection in January, citing excessive debt and ongoing competitive pressure, and began announcing store closings.

It initially planned to seek a buyer for the business and announced plans to keep some stores open. But the chain announced last week the company was unable to find a buyer. 

CEO Russ Steinhorst said in a statement that "this is not the outcome that we had hoped for when we started our restructuring efforts."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.