Special report: Who wins with Walmart?

Community reaction to Walmart varies from location to location

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Community reaction to Walmart's attempts to locate in central Ohio has been varied.

In 2003, residents of Powell and Liberty Township fought to keep Walmart out of their area. In other communities, Walmart is credited with spurring development.

Local retail experts say fighting the world's largest retail business can be a long and costly battle.

"Every community has to figure out how they'll approach big-box (development)," Columbus-based retail expert Chris Boring said. "Before they (big-box stores) knock on the door (communities) need to have policies in place."

Boring said he's seen three major approaches to proposed Walmart stores: opposition, welcome and planning.

"There are citizen groups that organize on a grassroots level to keep Walmart and other things out," he said. "They'll still shop at Walmart and Target, but they don't want it in their backyard On the other end of the spectrum, there are overly inviting communities and the focus is on economic development and trying to balance the tax base they want jobs that can't be outsourced overseas."

According to Walmart's east director of community and media relations, Bill Wertz, opposition to a new store isn't uncommon, but it's "quite unusual to have general opposition."

He said anti-Walmart groups have "a general vested interest where a competitor or someone feels they'll be disadvantaged in some way."

Some communities go as far as to offer big-box retailers such as Walmart financial incentives to locate in their areas.

The final approach is planning for big-box retail, which Boring recommends.

"If you can't beat them, regulate them and guide them to the light," he said. "Design guidelines to a retail reality. Create a master plan ahead of time and make sure everybody pays their way."

Guidelines can keep communities from facing a major Walmart disadvantage that Boring calls "the big uglies" - traffic, pollution, asphalt, stucco and neon.

"The chains prefer cookie-cutter designs and big signs, no windows but drive-throughs. There's always a battle over those issues when they go into zoning," he said.

Walmart does work with communities to ensure a good development, Wertz said.

"We often meet with community people," he said. "Oftentimes, people are worried about traffic or noise or maybe the appearance of the store. There are things we can do and have done to alleviate those concerns, like no truck loading or unloading after 10 p.m. We're willing to look at a building to make it more compatible with other structures in the area."

The company has also paid to improve infrastructure that would be stressed by a Walmart store, he said.

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