2021, June 25, Friday
Mayor Rich Hansen talked with us about business in Blair. We talked about the business climate, and the “downtown district,” specifically (From 12th to 19th streets.)
I would never discourage somebody from doing business in Blair, but if they want to make it a success, they better know what they’re up against.Blair, Nebraska Mayor, Rich Hansen
BLAIR TODAY: Mr. Mayor, how many years experience do you have in the Blair business community?
MAYOR HANSEN: My dad started the agency (Hansen Insurance and Real Estate) back in 1946. I was born in 1950. So, I would guess, I’ve had an ear to things since I was 10 years old. So that would be 61 years total.
BLAIR TODAY: With two-generations of experience in Blair, what do you think about the state of Blair business? And, how do you feel about the downtown district from about 12th to 19th streets?
MAYOR HANSEN: I think Blair is doing great. Downtown, quite frankly fell victim to our proximity to Omaha, and Amazon – the internet. I think it’s difficult for a retailer to make it in Blair. Although, I’m sure there are several businesses doing well.
The Walmart is doing well.. Family Fare… I think Bomgaars is in good shape. Ace Hardware’s probably in good shape. I think most of the restaurants are doing well. Service stations are doing well. The car dealers – how could you ask for a better deal than having Woodhouse’s home-base here in Blair, as well as the Dillon brothers – those businesses are doing well.
Retail is a whole different subject, for a small “mom and pop,” “Main Street” store for a number of reasons. One, the inordinate amount of truck traffic we have on Main Street is certainly a negative when it comes to people coming downtown and parking. That would be my biggest wish: To have the trucks leave Main Street. But, I’m not certain that even if the trucks were gone it’s going to help retail. You know, I think you can go to any big store in Omaha, and they’re having trouble because of the internet.
BLAIR TODAY: The biggest store in any town – Omaha included – is usually Walmart. And, the question of whether a big retailer like Walmart hurts local business is in the rear-view mirror anyway…
MAYOR HANSEN: No, I agree. I couldn’t agree with you more.
BLAIR TODAY: So, in terms of smaller “mom and pop” business, what do you think would work for Blair?
MAYOR HANSEN: I think it would have to be incredibly unique, incredibly well-serviced. You go to some of these stores and the people go hide behind the pillars because they don’t want to deal with retailers. You go down there to Ace Hardware, and they greet you like shoeshine kids in Mexico – they can’t wait to help you, they can’t wait to talk to you. I think it all depends on the service that they can provide. I think people will always prefer service – somebody helping them – to even price. Unless the price was so outrageously above what they can get in two days, or one day from Amazon.
BLAIR TODAY: How can Blair overcome obstacles like Amazon, bigger retailers, or the lack of focus by some local business on customer service?
MAYOR HANSEN: Well, anything’s possible. If I had the answer to that, we’d be doing it. I don’t know what the answer is. Like I said, you have to have something unique, maybe something nostalgic, something that you can’t find anywhere else within 20 minutes of Omaha. But, right now, there is nothing in Blair you can’t find anywhere else that’s within 20 minutes of Omaha. I think that for convenience sake Bomgaars, and Ace – those guys do well.
BLAIR TODAY: If someone asks you, “Should I start a business in Blair in 2021,” how will you answer them?
MAYOR HANSEN: I would make certain they’ve done their market research. That’s the first statement I would make to them. Do you know for a fact this will work? Have you spoken with Gateway Development? Have you spoken with the Blair Chamber of Commerce to see if they get any calls for these types of businesses. I would never discourage somebody from doing business in Blair, but if they want to make it a success, they better know what they’re up against.