The Closing of ALCO and Its Impact On Rural America

ALCO in Limon has closed its doors for the last and final time.  ALCO was a chain of “general stores” headquartered in Abilene Kansas.  They filed for bankruptcy in October 2014 and have now closed permanently.

 I first heard of ALCO when we got in some of their merchandise on a closeout when I worked in Big Lots in New Jersey.

I first heard of ALCO when we got in some of their merchandise on a closeout when I worked at Big Lots in New Jersey.

The best way that I could describe ALCO (in my Jersey experience) was an old-fashioned K-mart, or a K-mart on a smaller scale.  They sold a bit of everything and rotated items on sale with a weekly sales paper.  They knew that they were no competition for Wal-mart and targeted rural areas where Wal-mart was far away.

The closing of ALCO is detrimental to the rural areas it served.  I’m going to use Limon as an example here because that is the location that I’m most familiar with.  The closest Wal-mart to Limon is about 60 miles, and the closest area where there are other “real” stores is about 70 miles.

When any place closes, the natural and most frequent commentary is “I feel sorry for those people who lost their jobs.”  In a place like Limon, there’s a lot more to it than that.  Don’t get me wrong- I feel extremely sorry for the people who lost their jobs.  Being out of work stinks, there’s no doubt about that.  Even with unemployment compensation, loosing health benefits, 401Ks and opportunities for advancement is detrimental to anyone.

But there’s more.  I’m not an economist at all and I have nothing more than two introductory undergraduate economic courses.  Remember this as I say what I’m saying here, as my definite un-expert opinion.  The closing of ALCO in Limon (or other similar areas) will decimate the area more than the closing of a store in a more developed area. This is a no-brainer.  Let’s say, for example, we could figure out the GDP of Limon. How many businesses are contributing to this GDP? The answer is a way smaller number than an area like Denver or New Jersey. Even if you took the great 2 square miles that Limon is and took another 2 square miles of Denver or New Jersey, the GDP of Limon will be radically lower. Even if we took all of Lincoln County’s GDP, can we compare that to, um, the entire State of Delaware, which is even a little smaller geographically?  If one store closed in Delaware, would that impact the economy of the state as much as ALCO closing impacts Lincoln County, Colorado?  Of course not.  My point here is that since there are few businesses in Limon, one business closing will have a greater impact than one business in another place where there are a lot more businesses.  It’s simple percentages.  ALCO is a higher percentage of the GDP of Limon than another store would be in another area.  If we measured the impact of ALCO’s closing in percentages of the economic activity, we could see the real impact.

This is totally the worst picture, but I did photograph it myself. This is the ALCO in Limon during its Going Out of Business Sale.

This is totally the worst picture, but I did photograph it myself. This is the ALCO in Limon during its Going Out of Business Sale.

And there is still more.  ALCO’s closing leaves a gaping hole in the community, a hole of where to get stuff.  We have a wonderful supermarket in Hugo. We have a Dollar General in Limon. We have some wonderful hardware stores in both communities. We have a drug store in Limon. We have grain elevators. We have some restaurants and even some chain fast food places in Limon.  We have a convenience store in both Limon and Hugo.  Need an antique vase?  We got you covered because we have a plethora beautiful antique stores.
But there is a lot more that is just not sold in this community anymore.  Necessities.  Let’s say I was in desperate need for a car seat. I used to be able to buy one in ALCO.  Now I need to go at least 78 miles to the closest Wal-mart where there used to be car seats for sale a half hour away in ALCO.  (I have enough car seats so this is just an example.)What about jeans? Or shoes? These necessities now require a road trip or Amazon Prime. And that doesn’t include other niceties of living in the 21st century, like a blender or a toaster or toys for the kids.
I have AmazonPrime. I have credit cards that I can use to order stuff online. I have a capable fully insured vehicle that I can drive back and forth to the Front Range cities to go to real stores.  But what about the people who don’t or won’t? I mean the elderly, the sickly, the poor.They might not have the wherewithal or the stamina for a Marathon Day.  ALCO’s closing hits these people the hardest. It’s almost as if ALCO’s closing widens the class-gap. You’ve all heard the term food desert.  Maybe we can now call Lincoln County a “stuff desert”.

So, bottom-line, what I’m saying here is that ALCO’s closing is devastating to Limon and the surrounding areas on many levels.  Any business closing hurts the local economy, but the impact of ALCO’s closing is so much more to extremely rural areas:
1.  It stinks that people have lost their jobs.  This is true for any closed business.
2. Because Limon is such a small town with such few businesses, one store closing will have a way bigger impact on the economy than one store closing in an urban or suburban area.
3. ALCO’s closing leaves a gap. Certain goods that were readily available now require a road trip or online ordering, which some people (the poor, sickly, elderly, etc. ) are not capable of.

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