"No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions." --Thomas Jefferson to John Tyler, 1804.

Pushing Pocatello retail

Mark Mendiola
Eastern Idaho

Donald Zebe’s name isn’t exactly a household word in Bannock County, but it’s safe to say no single individual has done more to transform Pocatello’s previously lackluster retail market into a much more competitive, enticing place to shop by attracting large, well-recognized chain stores and restaurants to town.

Zebe – a Coldwell Banker retail leasing and commercial land specialist – was the driving force behind Pocatello Town Square, a 67-acre development southeast of Interstate 86’s Chubbuck interchange that boasts Lowe’s Home Improvement, Staples, Texas Roadhouse, Ross Dress for Less, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Ashley Furniture, Buffalo Wild Wings and Bed, Bath & Beyond as major occupants.

Another company, which Zebe declined to identify, has signed a letter of intent to open a restaurant next to Buffalo Wild Wings.

Zebe was involved to a lesser degree in getting Costco to locate its $17.5 million mega discount warehouse in the Gate City, working with Costco officials as early as 2003 to put it at Pocatello Town Square, but there wasn’t enough land there to suit their needs. He anticipates another Costco locating in the Idaho Falls/Rexburg area.

Among the many smaller ventures that he has succeeded in securing for the Pocatello/Chubbuck area are Ruby Tuesday, D.L. Evans Bank, Pita Pit, Jack in the Box, Walgreens, Del Taco, AT&T/Edge Wireless, Pizza Pie Cafe and Batteries Plus.

His latest ambitious project is Yellowstone Commons, another 67-acre retail development northwest of the Chubbuck interchange where Sherwin Williams has opened a large new paint store and Idaho Central Credit Union is constructing a new branch office along Yellowstone Avenue. Its size is large enough to potentially contain the likes of Target, Kohl’s, Best Buy and even a Wal-Mart.

Donald Zebe at the Sherwin-Williams store. (photo/Mark Mendiola)

A traffic light system soon will be installed near Yellowstone Commons to better regulate Yellowstone Avenue’s heavy traffic through Chubbuck. A 95-foot-wide road will be extended from Yellowstone Avenue to Hawthorne Road, where another traffic signal will be located.

Zebe estimates Pocatello Town Square and Yellowstone Commons each are “north of $50 million” in development costs. Pocatello Square has helped stanch the flow of shoppers from Pocatello to Idaho Falls, where a vibrant retail/restaurant climate prevails. The Idaho National Laboratory and related high tech businesses drive that city’s higher disposable income rate.

Zebe hopes Yellowstone Commons will further curtail the retail leakage from Bannock County to Bonneville County. Some Pocatello shoppers also are traveling to Salt Lake City, Twin Falls and Boise.

Famous Footwear last November closed its Pocatello Town Square store because its sales were down significantly as opposed to its Idaho Falls store. The Idaho Falls retail trade area is estimated at 230,000 people while Pocatello’s retail trade area is reckoned at 160,000 people. Pocatello’s annual per household expenditures are about $10,000 less than those of Idaho Falls and its annual per capita income averages about $7,000 less than I.F.

“That’s why retailers go to Idaho Falls first,” Zebe says, noting the Pocatello area still is considered a blue collar community based on statistical data. “Many companies consider Pocatello/Chubbuck less educated than others” – despite Idaho State University’s presence.

That perception has discouraged book stores like Hastings and Barnes & Noble from opening outlets in Pocatello, but WinCo’s construction of a new 92,000-square-foot grocery store – three times the size of its existing local store – could change that equation. That project has dramatically changed the corner of Yellowstone and Alameda, one of the city’s busiest intersections – a vacated Fred Meyer/Albertsons site that for years has been a blighted eyesore.

“We do find people will shop at Bed, Bath & Beyond and Staples at Idaho Falls because they already are shopping there,” Zebe says, mentioning while T.J. Maxx has a great store in Pocatello, the chain’s volume in Idaho Falls is higher than here.

The nation’s economic downtown has made it more difficult to market the Pocatello area to national retailers. Zebe says if local residents do not e-mail the CEOs of their favorite stores and restaurants about locating here, the community will not be on their radar. It’s not unusual for company executives to be clueless about the Pocatello/Chubbuck region’s location, he notes.

Former Pocatello Mayor Roger Chase persuaded Costco’s chief executive officer, a professional baseball fan, to locate his company’s super store in the Gate City by sending him an autographed major league baseball, Zebe mentions, emphasizing the importance of personal contacts.

If a community does not meet national spending averages, companies will hold off locating there, Zebe says, adding Olive Garden is not considering Pocatello despite persistent rumors. While some in Pocatello continue to do well financially, others are struggling and not going out to eat as much.

The volume of business at Pocatello area restaurants is lower than the national average. For instance, Texas Roadhouses nationwide average $90,000 a week in revenues, but Pocatello’s restaurant ranges from $50,000 to $62,000 weekly, Zebe notes.

Unlike Pocatello, which is in a valley squeezed by surrounding hills, Idaho Falls’ sprawling flat terrain allows uninhibited commercial expansion. Idaho Falls’ two Wal-Marts each earn from $1.4 million to $1.5 million in weekly sales while Chubbuck’s Wal-Mart averages $2.4 million to $2.6 million in sales each week, Zebe says.

Most of Pocatello/Chubbuck’s retail business is clustered around the Pine Ridge Mall, which will see Herberger’s open its first Idaho department store there in October, filling a void left by the departure of Gottschalks, Dillard’s and Macy’s from the Pocatello/Chubbuck market.

Zebe says he doesn’t expect a real surge in the Pocatello area’s retail market until transactions under negotiation are sealed by 2014-2015. Virtually all companies that could expand are booked for the rest of 2012, all of 2013 and the first half of 2014.

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