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Buying the Cross County Mall might seem unorthodox, but Rural King Supply’s purchase of the mall says two things to us: The company’s core business is strong and Rural King officials believe in Mattoon’s future as a commercial center.

Rural King recently announced that it has purchased the almost-50-year-old mall and plans to move its Store Support Center into the former Sears location at the mall’s eastern end.

And, no, Rural King does not plan to open a retail store in the mall at this time. About 250 people work in Rural King’s Store Support Center and those company associates will soon work from a renovated Sears store.

It sounds like Rural King officials are confident that its chain of more than 100 retail outlets in a dozen states is on solid ground. In fact, the National Retail Foundation ranks Rural King No. 34 on its list of the “Hot 100 Retailers” for 2017, according to the NRF’s STORES magazine.

According to the magazine, Rural King’s 2016 sales were just under $1 billion, a 12 percent growth over the previous years. Officials say the company has plans to open stores in another state in the near future.

Gearing its sales to people in rural communities -- and offering free popcorn and coffee -- has resonated with consumers. Rural King, which began in 1960 with a single store in Mattoon, “planted its roots in Mattoon,” the company’s website points out.

The key word is “roots.” Rural King is rooted here. This purchase of the Cross County Mall demonstrates that Rural King plans to stay here.

“The entire Rural King team is fully committed to continuing and enhancing our bond to Coles County and beyond,” said Brian Hutchins, vice president of business development for Rural King, in a statement announcing acquisition of the mall property.

Rural King’s decision to purchase and occupy part of the mall follows the lead of numerous hometown investments made over the years by Consolidated Communications. The telephone company, which began in Mattoon more than 120 years ago, has continued to invest in Mattoon by expanding its offices when it might have been understandable to relocate to a larger community.

But what better place to base a business that sells to a largely rural market than a community with a strong agriculture base?

While there are challenges in any business, Rural King officials are venturing into new territory as the mall’s landlord. The company official or department that serves as property manager for the mall has plenty of work to do.

Regis Property Management of Dallas, Texas, did a wonderful job of modernizing the mall’s appearance several years ago. But about half of the property spaces in the mall today are empty. Rural King officials undoubtedly will have greater interest in seeing that more retail space in the mall is filled than perhaps has been the case of past mall owners who are based in other states.

There is much work to be done before Rural King opens its Store Support Center in the mall sometime in late 2018.

But it is not easy to build from a single store to one of the top retail businesses in the country. Hard work is the norm in an agriculture-centered community and Rural King officials seem determined to make this new venture another success.

-- JG-TC Editorial Board

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