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Madison’s Retail Decline Related to Population Anomaly?

I attended the first formal public conversation on Madison's retail future, a meeting called by concerned citizen Ashley Kenneth Allen. A dozen of us gathered at the library to start figuring out why Madison's retail sector is in decline and what we might be able to do to reverse that decline. I have much to write about this very informative meeting.

One remarkable hypothesis inspired by this meeting: Madison may still be depressed. As in the Great Depression.

Mickie Kreidler brought her economic development knowledge and experience living in New Jersey, West Virginia, and Ohio to last night's meeting. She emphasized that population is the fundamental decider of retail success.

County Population Trends, 1890-2010: Codington, Brookings, Lake, Davison, Beadle, Yankton, Clay
click chart to enlarge!

That comment got me thinking about what has happened historically with our population compared to other communities a little large than ours. Let's compare Madison with Watertown, Brookings, Mitchell, Huron, Yankton, and Vermillion. The counties those towns seat all enjoyed growth until the Great Depression. All seven plateau'd or dipped in 1940.

Then something interesting happens: the beginning of the postwar baby boom brought population growth to each of those counties except for Lake (that's Madison). Beadle (Huron) grew through 1960, then declined. Of these seven counties, Lake County is the only one to remain in a population depression and never recover its population to 1940 levels.

Huron's decline more clearly coincides with the beginning of the Interstate Highway System. But I-90 didn't stop Mitchell (Davison County) from losing population in 1990. And if distance from the Interstate matters, Yankton should see declines larger than Madison's.

Gene Hexom recalled at last night's meeting that when he was growing up here in the 1940's, Madison had at least five grocery stores, two downtown movie theaters, and not an empty parking space to be found on Saturday night. But the graph above suggests that something else happened in the 1940s that kept Madison from recovering from the Depression.

If population drives retail, then we should figure out what factors drove our population down from 1940 onward that didn't hit our sister South Daktoa cities in the same way. If we can figure out those factors, we can figure out what practical action (if any!) we can take to surmount those factors and fill our downtown store fronts again.


  1. shane gerlach 2011.06.29

    That's funny as I have always thought of Madison as a "born there/die there" town. Where some people leave but very few come in. Flandreau is like that. Huron is like that.

    The interstate has helped tremendously for Brookings, Watertown and Mitchell I believe but not near as much as smart aggressive businessmen and women.

  2. Roger Elgersma 2011.06.29

    People move in because they retired from the farm or for a job. They do not move in because there is a lot of retail stores. They will drive for that. Stores come when there are enough houses. Brookings added factories and grew.

  3. Sarah A Hock 2011.06.29

    I first came to Madison in 1961, my parents were from Madison, but moved around a lot. As a sixth grader coming from Kansas City to Junuis was a culture shock. However, my memories are of coming into Madison on Saturday nights to do grocery shopping and a movie then home. I remember that from my sixth grade year until I graduated from MHS in 1968, that people who came to Madison to shop on Friday and Saturday's came from more than just Lake County. Madison was the hub city for at least a 20 to 25 mile circle. Now I do not think that we draw from any where except a 1 mile circle of Madison. When I was a student at DSU in the 90's, the percent of Madison residents who drove to Sioux Falls to work was stated as about 40%. I doubt that number has declined recently, if anything it has probably grown.
    My point here is that Madison used to draw people from all around us, now we do not. Since returning to Madison in the early 90's, I have sensed a feeling that Madison is too good for certain retailers and business's. If Madison is too good, then we will continue to die. Competition is the spice of life. If you ask any really successful business person, they would say that there is always room for competition. Take a look at Brookings, Mitchell, Sioux Falls, there are many restaurants, retailers, etc. Most are making it.
    We need to change our attitudes to make a new town of Madison. When I graduated from high school in 1968, the population of Madison was 6,500. The last time I heard the population of Madison in 2010, it was barely above 6,500. There has to be a reason for this fact.
    Thank you to Ashley and all those who took the time to meet to actually start talking about these issues by the average people.

  4. shane gerlach 2011.06.29

    Sarah you have touched on a point I have made repeatedly. There needs to be a decision made. Will Madison be insular and accept only certain money or will they be inviting and accept all money.

  5. rollin potter 2011.06.29

    Oh my!!!! Those who remember the ageless base ball pitcher Satchiel(mispelled) Page Famous saying,don't look back!!!! I must look back. South Dakota was a rural agriculture state at one time. A farm and family on every quarter and then every half section and bigger and bigger.
    Each and every one brought there families to town and bought there repairs and groceries and clothing and enjoyed there visit with there neighbors and then went home to try to reap a little from the land to come back the next week. Not any more. The government stepped in and said ,hey we will give you X amount of dollars to seed your land to grass and not produce anything. It was called the soil Bank in the fifties. Then in the sixties it was the crp or whatever. Now the banks were loaning money to the more aggressive people to buy more land and get these govrnment subsidies. Forward to the eighties and high interest and low prices for the crops and bang!!!!!! Land prices down and the small people out of business moving to town and out of state. All these people were not around to shop in each and every small town anymore. Now we bring on Chapter 12, not in the bible but the government subsidy to save all the people who over spent on the land and save the bankers who over loaned on the land. All the small families are gone and the HI rollers who took the chapter 12 bankruptcy are still around getting there subsidy checks and doing
    there business down the road past all the small towns.No more small towns and no more families shopping in those small towns. Progress??? I guess so Hello America!!!!!

  6. shane gerlach 2011.06.29

    Bravo Rollin.

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