Some retail stores operating on a national basis are facing troubling times as more consumers turn to online shopping. The trend is hurting smaller communities that have relied on the products and sales tax dollars of the big box stores for many years.

Even with the inevitable shift of a growing online retail market, that doesn’t mean the physical experience of shopping is coming to an end. Much of the change is coming through the rise of millennials, or generation Y, the young adults who are on the way to becoming the chief consumers in the American marketplace.

For communities that have diversified their economies and paid special attention to creating trendy downtown settings, such as Cullman, the news is not cause for alarm. Millennials have not abandoned brick-and-mortar shopping; they are in fact helping to drive the revival and sustainability of downtown shopping and dining venues.

Cullman, through home-grown efforts, is steadily becoming a destination for shopping, services and dining. The standout point is that major chain stores are thriving next to locally-owned businesses. Developers from outside the area report that Cullman is one of the most desirable locations for businesses in the region.

The growth is not slowing.

At the heart of the growth is not just location, it’s the unity of purpose in the area that’s the driving force of the success. A growing realization that each community is connected in Cullman County and that opportunities exist on different levels is making a difference.

On the horizon are important steps that will mean a lot to the future of Cullman as a destination and a place to live and work. The establishment of an entertainment district, increased marketing and improvement of already good festivals and events, loft living, and the opening of more locally-based restaurants and shops will bring shoppers and visitors of all ages. The setting is ideal for Cullman to be not just trendy, but viable in the longterm.

From exposing Cullman to a national audience with Rock the South to marketing the festivals, Lewis Smith Lake, and the unique shopping experiences outside the area, our community is discovering and capitalizing on its potential.

We appreciate the efforts of local governments, the Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce and the economic development teams for their roles and strong working relationships. And the entrepreneurs who believe in their community and are willing to invest and work to establish long lasting businesses and entertainment for residents and visitors play a major role in driving the area forward.

Giant retailers have their market studies to make decisions on where to locate. Locally-owned businesses, however, are the key to creating excitement and a steady flow of visitors. Unique shops and dining experiences are what the rising consumer generation wants. And they will want it for a long time, which means a prepared community will be sustainable.

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