Three out of four Hastings residents harbor bad feelings about the lack of retail and restaurant options. And a new study finds no bigger problem than the Imperial Mall.
But on the positive side, community leaders learned people will spend money at home if they have options.
"We have one of the best downtowns in this part of Nebraska," Susie Sands said.
Unique restaurants attract many to downtown Hastings. But you won't find Susie and her friend Mary Ann Wright at the mall, at least not with their wallets open.
Mary Ann said, "It's a great place for walking indoors in the winter."
"That's about it," Susie added with a laugh.
"Used to be you'd walk and it was full of stores. It's really sad," Mary Ann concluded.
The talk on the street plays out in a new survey, that finds only four percent satisfaction with the Imperial Mall, whose store count also numbers in single digits.
Jeanne Lisenby said, "I think I counted Herberger's and I noticed a nail salon, and of course K–Mart."
Chamber of Commerce President Tom Hastings said they continue to show the mall to interested parties. But because it's privately owned, he says it can be a challenge.
He said, "We have worked hard at doing things at the mall, but it has to be a partnership with people who own the mall as well as the community of Hastings to make it happen."
The city–funded study done by the Chamber of Commerce Retail Development Committee finds positives despite some low ratings.
City Council Member Phil Odom said, "We have work to do at the mall and other retail areas but we have a strong north 281, strong downtown."
They believe the problem is perception.
"People that say don't come to Hastings, we don't have what you're looking for," Corey Stutte said.
He helped prepare the study that found 78 percent of respondents were "detractors" while only 6.5 percent were "promoters."
Between passive attitudes and poor word of mouth, it causes people to not recommend Hastings to others, and "would wipe out any positive gains by Promoter recommendations" the report said.
Odom said they're trying to change old attitudes, that a select group of people call the shots.
"I don't think there are any smoke filled rooms these days," he said.
A similar study six years ago led to new opportunities. Tom Hastings said they recruited more home improvement and department stores, and those categories now rate favorably on the survey. So there's hope they can use this new study to shore up weaknesses.
But without more, people will shop in Grand Island, then head east.
"Usually go to Lincoln," Jeanne Lisenby said. "That's where family is, to do our shopping."
There's demand for clothing stores and family restaurants, not just bars that serve food.
But overall, the majority are not satisfied, and believe Hastings is losing more than it is gaining.
The positive marks come downtown and on the north 281 area, around the Walmart and Cimarron Plaza outdoor shopping area.
They hope this study casts the vision to build on strengths and turn things around.