Zion, Illinois

A Retail Journey

Zion, Illinois, significantly advanced its retail landscape by partnering with Retail Strategies, overcoming initial retail recruitment challenges through Sonolito Bronson‘s leadership. This alliance became pivotal, leveraging Retail Strategies’ expertise, connections, and comprehensive retail recruitment strategy.

 

City of Zion

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A Retail Journey

Choosing a Collaborative Partner

It was at the ICSC Vegas conference that the team from Zion connected with Retail Strategies, aligning on the city’s staffing, resource, and networking challenges. Despite considering various consultants, Retail Strategies emerged as the clear choice.

Bronson notes, “Retail Strategies became an indispensable extension of our city staff. Given the multiple hats I wear at City Hall, from zoning to licensing and administrative support, their expertise and established networks are vital in articulating our city’s potential to developers and brokers.“

Key areas of focus

Attracted major retailers like Starbucks and Popeyes, filling critical vacancies and enhancing sales tax revenues.

Established vital connections with developers and brokers, leveraging Retail Strategies’ networks for city promotion.

Implemented a data-driven approach to retail recruitment, culminating in five development projects that significantly boosted the local economy and quality of life.

Developing a Retail Recruitment Strategy

The initial three-year partnership with Retail Strategies was dedicated to meticulous data collection, fostering relationships with local property owners and key retailers, and a comprehensive retail recruitment strategy development. Zion’s staff bridged the introduction to key stakeholders, allowing Retail Strategies to immerse themselves in the fabric of the community, and effectively showcasing Zion at key trade events like ICSC Chicago and ICSC Las Vegas.

Bronson reflects, “While positive retailer feedback was immediate, the timing for development was not yet aligned. Nevertheless, connections were formed.”
In the fifth year, the tide turned dramatically. The diligent groundwork culminated in a surge of retailer interest in Zion.

"We don’t have time to forge relationships with developers and brokers. Retail Strategies already has those connections and can speak the language on behalf of our city. What Retail Strategies brings that is so valuable is that they have the expertise, time, and relationships to really talk to retailers. To really spend time developing those relationships. That is something that I cannot do with my capacity.​"

The Retail Expansion Breakthrough

In the fifth year, the tide turned dramatically. The diligent groundwork culminated in a surge of retailer interest in Zion.

“We started receiving inquiries for demographics and property details all at once,” Bronson recalls. “Now in our ninth year, we have massive results with five development projects, with plans for more in the pipeline.”

Significant wins include new establishments like Starbucks and Popeyes that enhance not only sales tax revenues, but quality of life for residents and tourists in Zio.

Notably, a former Applebee’s restaurant sat vacant on the main retail corridor in Zion. With an aggressive outreach strategy, the team was able to backfill the prime location with a Physicians Immediate Care.

"Being a partner with Retail Strategies is probably the best thing we’ve ever done because I have a team behind me that is knocking on doors, making phone calls, answering emails, and really promoting our community. The results are immeasurable. Without them, I couldn’t have had this success."

Trusted Real Estate Advisor

The partnership delivers more than recruitment—it’s a gateway to strategic real estate insights, positioning the city to meet site selectors’ expectations. The newly elected Mayor has also benefited from this relationship, gaining knowledge to further support and accelerate Zion’s retail momentum.

“We receive real estate advice from our team at Retail Strategies – they have the inside knowledge of what site selectors are looking for and what they’re not interested in. Our Mayor was recently elected and now he’s been educated on the retail development process and he can be more proactive and supportive of our momentum,” said Bronson.

When asked what advice she would give to other community leaders, Bronson stated: 

“As city staff we take into account our entire team and the hats they wear. Retail Strategies is like adding another team to our Economic Development efforts, bringing us relationships to expand our tax base. They’re a diamond in the rough that is really an asset to a community.”

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