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Prairie Hills Mall looks forward in 2018

The thank you for shopping locally logo and movement is intended to help compete against the encroachment of online retail on physical storefronts. (Photo courtesy of Peggy O'Brien)

It's been a tough year at the Prairie Hills Mall, which bid farewell to two businesses, including a long-time fixture of the Dickinson business landscape. The stores were victims of the rising popularity of online shopping, mall manager Peggy O'Brien said.

"Vanity was very clear when they issued to us their release," O'Brien said. "They were closing all of their past stores as a result of the impact of online shopping."

J.C. Penney and Vanity both closed their doors in 2017, the former having been a part of the Dickinson retail world since before the mall was built in the late 1970s, O'Brien said.

"This is a very real concern for everyone in retail,"she said.

It's not just retail, but the whole community could be hurt, O'Brien said. Brick-and-mortar retailers pay sales tax, and the money spent within a community goes back into a community, she said.

When that money is spent out of town or online, "We're basically depriving ourselves of that revenue," O'Brien said. "I do not think people fully grasp how many entities and quality of life issues are impacted through the collection of sales tax dollars."

She said public services are harmed when sales taxes aren't collected. As the mall closes the door on a year of goodbyes, she said they are looking forward to introducing new businesses while continuing to preach the message of shopping locally.

"It was a community effort to get that message out," O'Brien said. "We're going to build on that message. ... This is a community effort, this isn't just downtown or just the mall. ... we're stronger together."

Prairie Hills Mall has been "leading the charge" in advocating for people to shop locally, O'Brien said. It isn't the same as simply shopping at local, mom-and-pop stores, she said. Larger retailers like Menards and Walmart are included in the "shop locally" label.

"There's such a strong message that needs to go out to the people ... people don't want to intentionally undermine the integrity of their community," she said. "But they don't realize that is exactly what's happening."

She said she's been courting a number of new businesses to take the space left behind by Vanity and J.C. Penney, but did not disclose which businesses she's been speaking with.