Sunday, October 22, 2006

Small Town Welcomes Wal-Mart

The Washington Times reports:

Kilmarnock, or "Kil-MAH-nick," is an hourlong drive from a Starbucks coffee shop, train station or taxis, and a 30-minute drive to a Wal-Mart.

But not for long.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. plans to build a 155,000-square-foot "superstore," with grocery, bakery and deli departments, on 64 acres at the north end of this quiet Northern Neck community.


Supporters -- families, younger shoppers, the town government -- are rolling out the welcome mat for economic growth. They say they want quick access to basic goods that aren't easy to find in town, such as children's clothes, socks and shower curtains.

The prospect of actual competition is already improving local businesses:

A sporting goods store on Main Street, Sports Centre, is changing its focus to team sales, including uniforms and trophies. Up the street, Farm & Home Supply is pushing harder to please the customer and turning from from products Wal-Mart carries.

"We don't have the buying power that big boxes have," says William Pittman, manager of Farm & Home Supply.

Instead of trying to compete on price, a battle it knows it can't win, Farm & Home will rely on customer service, repairs and knowledge of its products, Mr. Pittman says.

Sports Centre has cleared out its supply of low-cost baseball mitts and now carries the high-priced mitts that Wal-Mart does not.


Some shoppers say Wal-Mart will bring needed competition to the Main Street retailers, many of which have a monopoly.

"The shops here have retooled their business to cater to the middle-to-upscale shopper," Mayor Curtis H. Smith says. "They're not after the ordinary citizens. I'll catch some criticism for that, but that's the truth."

Residents can find antiques, upscale clothes, appliances, sports gear, books, office supplies, bicycles and pharmaceuticals on Main Street. But children's clothes, school supplies and products such as socks, towels, thread and crafts typically require a trip outside town.

And where do such shoppers go? Wal-Mart. There is one about 40 miles north, in Tappahannock, or 30 miles south, in Gloucester.

So the new store's biggest impact will probably be saving gas.

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