More than a half dozen national or regional retailers have landed in Bend over the past six months, ranging from Men's Wearhouse to Natural Grocers.
But some of the biggest names aren't quite ready yet to open stores here.
"We're drawing national attention," said Noelle Fredland, marketing director for the Old Mill District. "They're looking at us, but saying no because of our population."
From about 2005 to 2007, national retailers like Best Buy and Bed Bath and Beyond arrived in waves. But in the wake of the Great Recession, Bend lost several national chains, including Ann Taylor Loft and, come December, Sears.
The retail industry continues to evolve, with online and mobile sales growing in importance over brick-and-mortar stores in smaller markets for some retailers. But with the overall economy improving and boosting consumer confidence, some national names like Walgreens and Francesca's Collection, which has 436 boutiques in 44 states, will open, or have, in Bend, despite its small-city population.
Ultimately, said Damon Runberg, a regional economist with the Oregon Employment Department, companies weigh the cost of property, goods and labor against potential sales. And even if they determine a profit isn't possible, he said, they consider other factors, such as competition in a given market, growth opportunities and seasonal fluctuations, which are more extreme in Central Oregon due to tourism.
There are core markets: San Francisco and Los Angeles, secondary markets like Portland and Boise, and tertiary markets such as Bend and Redding, Calif., said Darren Powderly, partner and president of Compass Commercial Real Estate Services, in Bend.
"When there's an opportunity for a big strong retailer to open more stores and cover a core market more completely, they're going to cover their core markets first," he said.
The location of a company's distribution channels is another major consideration. For example, Powderly said, Compass has been trying to attract Panera Bread, but hasn't had success.
"We've called them," he said. "We have a few great sites for them, but they say (their) distribution is along the I-5 corridor from Seattle to L.A.," he said. "So they say, 'No thank you, not at this time."'
However, Erbert and Gerbert's Sandwich Shop, which has more than 60 stores and is based in Wisconsin, plans to open two Bend locations and is currently searching for space, said Erin Hudec, spokeswoman for Erbert & Gerbert's franchise.
Similarly, the Old Mill has been trying unsuccessfully to get Apple to open a retail store for the past five years, Fredland said. However, Simply Mac, an Apple specialist with 11 stores in eight states, expects to open this month in the Old Mill.
Despite its size, she said, the Bend market frequently surprises new retailers that locate here.
"We are a much more dynamic market than they expect just looking at our population," she said. "If you are to look at our market of tourists and the lifestyle of Bend, it helps make Bend a strong choice for some retailers."