Ted Herget surveys his surroundings inside the new Gearhead Outfitters store in the former Sears Building on Highland Drive at Caraway Road. A restored 1971 Volkswagen van is part of the decor.

JONESBORO — Retail at Highland Drive and Caraway Road is coming back to life. But it’s taken longer than expected.

In fact, Ted Herget, owner of the new Gearhead Outfitters, which opened a few days ago, had thought it would open in April. Renovations to the former Sears building still aren’t complete, and not everything Herget plans to have in his 16,000-square-foot store has arrived, but most of his clothing inventory has been on hand for months.

This is the largest retail outlet in the Jonesboro-based chain of stores scattered over four states.

“We’re going to test the waters on a new concept,” Herget said of the store. “Our brands are fired up.”

The Main Street Gearhead will remain open, he said.

Part of the plan for the new store is to bring back some of the old retail tricks from retail’s past.

“We’re not in the coffee business, but we’ll have a cafe here,” Herget said. “A candy store, hopefully will be open. We’ll be roasting nuts and everything. It kind of goes back to retail back in the ‘50s. I want this store to recreate what our parents and grandparents experienced.”

The new Gearhead location replaces a store that was destroyed March 28, 2020, when a tornado struck The Mall at Turtle Creek. Herget joined Chris Gamble, who also lost a store in the mall, to buy the 82,000-square-foot Sears building.

The Buckle, another former mall tenant, is also expected to open soon. Because of supply chain issues, Gamble Home likely won’t open before mid-February, Herget said.

As proud as he is of his new store, Herget speaks just as proudly of his parking lot, which also is still a work in progress.

“A, it’s prettier, when you come by and you see the trees and the landscape,” Herget said. “And it stops flooding, It’s such a hot topic in Jonesboro. They don’t understand why. But just look around. Look at all the parking lots. All these parking lots are so freaking big. Where does the water go. It goes to your neighbor’s.”

Because the store property is in a relatively low spot, Herget said he gets excited when it rains so he can watch the improvements work. When finished, about 2 acres of concrete will have been removed from the store site, he said.

Herget said he and Gamble learned from the landscaping at established properties in other cities where they have stores, especially in northwest Arkansas.

Last year’s tornado came at about the same time the retail world was put in a tailspin because of the coronavirus pandemic. And that was just a few months after Ted and Amanda Herget had bought 13 stores in Tennessee, Illinois and Wisconsin.

“We went from 300 employees to 25,” Herget said of the pandemic shutdown. “I think I worked 360-something days last year, and I didn’t think there was any way out it.”

Herget said the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) literally saved the business. While the company only has about half as many employees as it once did, and fewer stores, Herget said everyone has learned to work more intelligently.

Six stores in the Chicago area were closed after leases expired.

In recent months, Gearhead has opened stores in St. Louis and Columbia, Mo.

After all the adjustments, Herget said things are looking up at Gearhead.

“We’re coming out of what will be our strongest year, which just blows my mind,” Herget said.

Though his chain of active-life stores has a lot of online customers, Herget insists that the key to success remains with physical stores.

“But you have to give people a reason to come in,” Herget said. “And to me, there’s no fellowship sitting around a computer ordering stuff.”

He noted the savings online shoppers may have experienced in the past are slowly disappearing with the rising cost of getting those products to the home.

“And my thing is, if you support schools, if you support your police and your fire and the city parks and all the programs your kids do – spend your money in the town you live in,” Herget said. “It’s that simple.”

Even if you shop at a national chain store in your community, you’re still shopping local, Herget said.