November 20, 2001

Best Buy Comes to Local Mall

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On Friday Nov. 9, Best Buy Co. Inc. opened its doors to Ithaca in the Pyramid Mall on Catherwood Road. Headquartered in Eden Prairie, Minn., the company is composed of over 400 retail stores throughout the United States, according to Steve Hulett, Inventory Manager for the Ithaca store.

Best Buy is the largest volume specialty retailer of consumer electronics, personal computers, entertainment software and appliances and prides itself on bringing customers an extensive selection of affordable, easy-to-use technology and entertainment products, according to the company’s web site.

Leading sales at Best Buy come from consumer electronics and home theater products such as TVs, DVDs and camcorders, with personal computers as close second, according to Daniel McAuliffee, Ithaca Best Buy operations manager.

The effects of the opening have yet to be seen, but some Ithaca residents have long been concerned that “big-box” retail stores would detract from the smaller businesses downtown.

“It will be interesting to see what happens between Best Buy and other [big] players as they compete for the market place. Other examples exist across the country where big box retail stores have knocked each other out,” said Gary Ferguson, executive director of the Ithaca Downtown Partnership.

“It has lower prices than other places on the whole. However, it hurts local businesses, and other local electronic stores downtown, in particular, will have a hard time competing. But at the same time it creates jobs,” said Ithaca resident and shopper Jed Sheckler.

Another local resident, Jennifer Chapman, agreed: “I wonder about its effects on local businesses downtown. It’s nice for the most part and I’m glad it’s here,” she said.

Ferguson acknowledged the impact that a big-box retailer like Best Buy can have on other smaller, local area businesses. “Big box retailers (or category killers) can injure other locals that are smaller than them. This is always dangerous. An example is the video store in Ithaca. A national chain came in and a local one went out. However, sometimes [big box retailers] backfire. I do think there is a segment of the population that is distinctly worried about it,” he remarked.

Students also have concerns about the potential impact on the local economy.

“Best Buy was needed in Ithaca, but what really matters is how locals perceive it,” said Christopher Bianchi, ’04.

According to McAuliffee, marketing representatives studied the local demographics, conducted surveys with various age groups and confirmed that a Best Buy store would succeed and be profitable in Ithaca.

“It is a highly populated area and every four years we get a new market from student turnover at the local universities,” he explained.

Second Ward Ithaca Common Council member Julia Diann Sams said she thought that a slower, more thoughtful planning process might have been more beneficial to everyone involved.

“It would have been a lot better if we planned it together [Pyramid mall, the city and county], deciding what it would look like. After all, we are the county seat. There was planning done. However, I wasn’t a part of it. This isn’t something you do in six months, it takes years to do it,” she asserted.

Building a store like Best Buy lasts nearly 90 days, from breaking ground to opening day. After researching and bidding for the best price, Best Buy contracted out to a general contractor who then sub contracted to other smaller ones to build the Ithaca store, according to McAuliffee.

Opening a store takes planning from every department from finance to real estate, according to McAuliffee. “Management usually comes in, does a set up, recruits employees at a job fair and trains them. Then we have our grand opening…,” he commented.

Best Buy prides themselves on their employees, according to McAuliffee. “It is their enthusiasm and energy that generates business, in addition to our good pricing and consumer selection. This is usually what makes or breaks a store,” he claimed.

He said he thought that the opportunity to move up in the company is great, highlighting that in four to five years one could have a good chance at obtaining a high level position. The Ithaca store currently employs 120 workers, according to McAuliffee.

Ferguson hopes that the new Best Buy will not have a direct impact on downtown shops, emphasizing that stores on the Commons are specialty stores with established niches.

“The music store downtown has good pricing, and goes deep in selection. You won’t see a lot of depth from a big box store. They operate on the principle of volume, selling a lot but without going deep in selection. Downtown stores should be specialized enough that Best Buy won’t affect them,” he concluded.

Some have a more negative opinion of Best Buy’s effect on local business.

“I’m more concerned about the local economy — if you don’t have folks working, stores won’t be a whole lot of good,” Sams asserted.

Best buy managers have a more positive outlook on opportunities for success. “It’s a good area for us, the people are excellent, and we’re glad to be here. It will be a success for both us and the community,” McAuliffee added.

Archived article by Chris Westgate