Welcome to Wichita

It’s fair to hope that the new Costco will encourage other chains to consider Wichita, too.
It’s fair to hope that the new Costco will encourage other chains to consider Wichita, too.

Fairly or not, a city is measured in part on its ability to land and sustain notable national retail and restaurant chains.

So Wednesday’s long-awaited opening of a Costco in Wichita was about much more than the members-only chain’s famous deep discounts, food samples, voluminous pizza and hot dog sales, and cultish following.

The Washington-based retailer’s 150,000-square-foot store on former Beechcraft property at Kellogg and Webb represents 240 new jobs in a community that has lost too many in recent years. But it also stands as another key endorsement of Wichita’s market strength, on the heels of its landing of shiny national brands such as Whole Foods (2014), Cabela’s (2012) and Sephora (2011).

Like Wednesday’s opening of the new airport terminal, the new Costco will help signal that Wichita is no backwater – to locals and transplants as well as to visitors and people shopping for a place to live and do business. The arrivals are good not only for the local tax base and economy but for community self-esteem.

It’s fair to hope that the new Costco will encourage other chains to consider Wichita, too, because this quest to keep up with other cities always leaves locals wanting more.

IKEA, Cheesecake Factory, Trader Joe’s, Urban Outfitters, an Apple Store, Crate & Barrel, and Nebraska Furniture Mart are among the businesses that Wichitans continue to covet. Last year’s ACT ICT community engagement process also found Wichitans hungry for Dave & Buster’s, Joe’s Crab Shack, Jack in the Box and White Castle – the last especially painful in its absence, considering that it was founded in Wichita in 1921.

“Be patient,” an executive at a national site selection firm once counseled Wichita about its chain envy.

While it waits, the community can hope to see a robust revival of the entrepreneurial tradition that led not only to major employers such as Koch Industries and what is now Textron Aviation but also to successful national brands including Pizza Hut, Residence Inn, Coleman Co., Lone Star Steakhouse, Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers, and Sheplers Western Wear Store.

There are no guarantees that businesses, once launched, will remain in Wichita forever. Sometimes success leads to being purchased, leaving town or both. In the case of this week’s $147 million acquisition of Texas-based Sheplers by California-based Boot Barn Holdings, the West Kellogg store will remain, but under the new logo – some consolation as the community mourns the loss of the destination retailer’s proud Wichita-linked name.

But as efforts such as Wichita State University’s Innovation Campus and the Greater Wichita Partnership strive to give rise to more new companies of all kinds, it feels good to welcome Costco to town – and see Wichita check another business off its wish list.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman