Wal-Mart poised to damage Rifle retail | PostIndependent.com
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Wal-Mart poised to damage Rifle retail

Heather McGregor

Wal-Mart has submitted construction plans for a superstore to be built at the 48-acre Rifle Ventures shopping center on the south side of Interstate 70.

Rifle’s open-arms policy toward any and all business, spelled out in its previous approvals of the Rifle Ventures project, now means that the nation’s biggest and most aggressive retailer can waltz into the city with nary a look from City Council.

All that’s required now are negotiations with the city planning staff over signage, parking, landscaping, trash-bin screening and sidewalks.

The 107,000-square-foot super Wal-Mart includes a grocery store, one-hour photo lab, vision center, pharmacy and gas station. Expansion plans call for an automotive service department.

The new retail and service store may look like a cash cow now, but Wal-Mart’s cut-rate prices and one-stop shopping convenience could strangle many community-minded businesses, from mom-and-pop shops to regionally-based retailers.

Across the country, 1,100 Wal-Mart superstores are busy homogenizing and centralizing American retail – at the expense of locally owned businesses and the community institutions they support.

From 1983 to 1993, Wal-Mart competition in Iowa smothered 7,300 businesses, including 555 grocery stores, 293 building-supply stores and 264 apparel stores, according to the estimates of Iowa State University economist Kenneth E. Stone.

In Goodland, Kan., a thriving town along Interstate 70, the city’s grocery stores have closed and Wal-Mart is the only place to buy food.

In Joplin, Mo., Wal-Mart built three Supercenters in 1997 in addition to the two already in the city. The move pounded the city’s retailers. A grocery chain with a dozen outlets closed, and most Main Street businesses locked their doors.

We won’t hide our bias here. Wal-Mart almost never purchases newspaper advertising. Unlike the local businesses that advertise their products and services on our pages, which benefits them and finances our news-gathering operation, Wal-Mart relies on direct mail.

Wal-Mart’s damage will go further than community newspapers, however. Tried-and-true businesses that donate to worthwhile causes and provide jobs for active community volunteers will likely face tough times as Wal-Mart tries to corner every retail dollar it can.

Take a good look now at Rifle’s prosperous commercial core on the north end of town, because it probably won’t be looking so healthy once the Arkansas giant comes to town. And the same effects will very likely ripple outward to Parachute, Meeker and Silt.

In contrast to Rifle’s blindfolded welcome to Wal-Mart, Carbondale is taking a more careful approach for its own big-box project, the Crystal River Marketplace.

In approving the Marketplace plan in June (it’s since been withdrawn and resubmitted), Carbondale’s Planning and Zoning Commission attached a condition giving town voters a chance to veto the project’s largest tenants.

That provision should stick with the Marketplace, however it turns out.

Carbondale residents may feel comfortable adding Target to the town’s retail mix, but they should certainly have a voice in deciding whether to let Wal-Mart come to town.

Meanwhile, Rifle residents should think hard, and speak up, about the commercial future of their city. The public hearing for the Rifle Ventures development is closed, but city officials could still host a public forum on the issue.

It may not be too late to say no.

– Heather McGregor, Managing Editor


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