The announcement last week that Forever 21, the women’s clothing retailer, was filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection was yet another alarm bell for the village of North Riverside as it begins the process of getting a comprehensive plan off the ground.
Forever 21 is the latest retailer seeking bankruptcy protection and is also the latest to state that the move is being undertaken to right-size the company and make it profitable once more.
But, North Riverside has seen this bit of kabuki before. The village has experienced a small parade of retailers – Sports Authority, H.H. Gregg, Toys R Us, Carson Pirie Scott and Payless Shoes – who all said the same thing. In each case, the North Riverside stores were spared initially only to shutter when the company determined liquidation was the only possible route.
The only exception to that rule was Sears, which limps along under an ownership whose future remains very much in question. Only time will tell in the case of Forever 21, but their predicament reinforces the need for North Riverside to face up to the task of comprehensive planning in a methodical, realistic way.
The village’s hiring of a consultant to lead that effort was an important step. Equally important is making sure the planning process is transparent and welcomes public input. Small municipalities like North Riverside, which depend so heavily on large retail commercial districts, were once the envy of their neighbors – able to keep local property taxes low and still provide myriad services.
That reliance on retail and the sales taxes it brings is no longer the sure bet it once seemed, and everyone in the village needs to be aware of that and of what vision local leaders have in mind for the future.
Because, if there’s one thing that’s certain, it’s that this economic landscape is changing.