Wal-Mart seeks to ready Rifle for Supercenter

Post Independent Staff

RIFLE – Fewer than 20 people attended a town meeting Monday evening to discuss the impacts the new Wal-Mart Supercenter will have on the Rifle area.

The giant store, located on Airport Road south of Interstate 70, is currently under construction and is projected to be open by late October.

At the auditorium door, meeting agendas and a handout titled “Wal-Mart Facts: Our Commitment to Communities” were passed out.

Sitting at a long table facing the small audience, Marcia Kent, Rifle Chamber board president and the president of Rifle’s Wells Fargo Bank branch, introduced Kris Swanson, a member of the Rifle Chamber board of directors and the Rifle economic development committee.

“Our goal is to be proactive,” said Swanson, who is also public relations director of the Grand River Hospital District. “So many of Rifle’s dollars are lost to outside businesses, causing us to lose the benefits of a tax base. We’re here to talk about helping local businesses adapt and grow.”

Seated at the table alongside Rifle Chamber members, Swanson introduced Mike Daulton, general manager of the Glenwood Springs Wal-Mart, and John Besio, the Midwest community affairs manager for Wal-Mart Stores. Alan Lambert, Rifle Chamber’s board vice president and a Rifle City councilman, rounded out the panel.

“We’re the world’s largest company,” Besio told the crowd, “but we never think of ourselves that way. We think one store at a time, and one customer at a time. We try to do the right thing. It’s not always the perfect thing but we try to do what’s right. We try to provide convenience. That’s the Wal-Mart way.”

Besio explained how Wal-Mart decided to put its 30th Colorado Supercenter in Rifle.

“We did our homework,” he said. “We looked at our check transactions at our Glenwood Springs store and in our Grand Junction store, and in the last year alone, customers from the Rifle area spent more than $17 million at those two stores. And that’s not counting cash or credit card transactions. That’s astounding. I oversee 400 to 500 stores in 12 to 13 states. That’s about as high a figure as I’ve seen anywhere for people coming from out of town to shop our stores.

“Because of that figure,” Besio continued, “we felt we weren’t doing the best job we can to meet the needs of our Rifle customers. That’s why we decided on Rifle.”

Jeff Johnson, a Rifle architect and vice chairman of Rifle’s economic development committee, asked Besio about “the homework” Wal-Mart has done on Rifle.

“We want your homework,” Johnson said. “We could really use that homework in bringing other businesses here.”

“Unfortunately, much of that information is proprietary,” Besio said. “But what I will tell you is look at those things that Wal-Mart doesn’t provide if you want to contribute to the economic health of Rifle.”

Besio talked about the advantages of keeping Rifle dollars in Rifle, in terms of “recapturing the leakage” of tax revenues.

“A conservative (revenue) estimate for Rifle Supercenter is projected to be about $35 million a year,” he said.

The sales tax revenue generated by those sales “is going to come right back into your community,” he said.

He also said Wal-Mart’s presence in town can help other businesses.

“Instead of residents going to Glenwood or Grand Junction, they’ll stay here and shop,” Besio said. “And that only helps other retail businesses.”

Besio also estimated that 300 jobs – both full- and part-time – will be available at the Rifle store.

“Depending on the number of hours you work, we have great benefits, like health and dental insurance, profit sharing, discount cards, child care discounts and more,” Besio said.

Besio also mentioned Wal-Mart’s charity and grant giving.

“We don’t tell everyone about this, because that wasn’t (Wal-Mart founder) Sam Walton’s way to boast, but we’re in the top 10 businesses in the U.S. for philanthropic contributions,” he said. “Wherever we go, we enhance the quality of life, whether it’s in Durango, Avon, Glenwood Springs or Salida.”

To illustrate the point, Besio brought out a letter written by Marianne Virgili, executive director of the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association, and read it to the group. The letter said that Roaring Fork Marketplace, the strip mall next to Glenwood’s Wal-Mart, was “a ghost town” before Wal-Mart moved in, but that now, it has the largest percentage of sales tax receipts within Glenwood’s city limits. Virgili wrote that she looks at Wal-Mart as a shopping mall would an anchor store.

“Wal-Mart has served as a magnet to our community at large,” she wrote.

Besio made only one mention of negative reactions to Wal-Mart stores.

“Now, you might hear people trying to smear our name, but let’s set the record straight and see through that,” he said. “That’s a lot of hooey. The facts back us up.”

Besio said Daulton, manager of the Glenwood Springs Wal-Mart, has been with the company for 25 years.

“He worked right alongside Sam and Bud Walton. You have a great resource here.”

Daulton explained that he started off when Wal-Mart had fewer than 100 stores. When Daulton was just 13, he worked as a cashier at a Missouri Wal-Mart. Since then, he said, he’s opened 158 stores in 32 states, but “jumped” at the chance to manage the Glenwood Springs store.

“I have to admit I’m jealous of this store,” Daulton said of Rifle’s Supercenter. It will feature a larger store than Glenwood’s, with a full grocery, tire and lube center, local bank facility, and possibly an eyeglass center and hair cutting salon.

“I’d like Glenwood to have a Supercenter someday. But in the meantime, you’ll see me shopping down here, especially in the food area.”

Daulton said when he first arrived in Glenwood, some small business owners didn’t want to talk to him.

“I’m a big fly fisherman,” Daulton said, “and one day I was in a fly-fishing specialty shop and the staff wouldn’t talk to me. They thought I was in there scoping out their merchandise. But there will always be a lot of merchandise Wal-Mart will never carry. We’re more mainstream. We don’t carry specialty items. There will always be a place for those types of businesses in the community. We went through their merchandise, and by the end of my visit there, we were all pretty good friends.”

Contact: Carrie Click 945-8515, ext. 518

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