Although Walmart has a reputation for putting independent stores out of business, ThisWeek reporters who worked on this series found the one-stop store is credited with spurring retail development, creating jobs and making charitable contributions in six central Ohio suburbs: Grove City, Reynoldsburg, Canal Winchester, Marysville, Lewis Center and the city of Delaware.

Editor's note: Who wins with Walmart? The answer depends on whom you ask. This is the last in a four-part print series on the impact of Walmart stores on select central Ohio communities.

Although Walmart has a reputation for putting independent stores out of business, ThisWeek reporters who worked on this series found the one-stop store is credited with spurring retail development, creating jobs and making charitable contributions in six central Ohio suburbs: Grove City, Reynoldsburg, Canal Winchester, Marysville, Lewis Center and the city of Delaware.

Driving development

In Lewis Center in Orange Township, the community embraced Walmart when it was built along U.S. 23 in 2000.

Before Walmart and the Meijer store on the other side of Route 23 opened, residents had to travel quite a distance to shop.

"There wasn't any commercial there until the businesses started going in, and the community liked that there would be places to shop," Orange Township trustee Jim Agan said.

In Grove City, business is booming in the Stringtown Road shopping center, thanks to the Walmart Supercenter anchor. Kohl's and Hobby Lobby will join the center this fall to finish a development project that began in 2003.

Ten years ago, the one-mile Stringtown Road stretch was nothing but cornfields, Grove City development director Chuck Boso said.

Today, Walmart is surrounded by dozens of retailers and restaurant chains. The shopping center has created more than 1,000 jobs and earned the city $2.8 million in tax revenues in 2010, he said.

Reynoldsburg's Walmart Supercenter in the Taylor Square shopping center is the main anchor of a thriving retail development on a site that was once nothing more than woods and an open field.

Former Reynoldsburg development director Lucas Haire said Walmart was the first business to open at the shopping center. The 204,394-square-foot store occupies 21.28 acres of the 210-acre site.

Haire said Walmart has a "retail multiplier" effect, meaning when one goes in, it attracts multiple other retailers.

"All of what's at Taylor Square now is there because of Walmart," he said. "It really drove the rest of that development."

Walmart opened in Canal Winchester in 2005 and is now that city's third-largest employer, with 320 employees, according to city finance director Nanisa Osborn. It is also among a handful of nationwide, big-box retail stores that act as anchors to development in adjoining properties.

"I don't think any one of those stores (in the Gender Road developments) would have built there by themselves," Canal Winchester Mayor Michael Ebert said.

Ebert noted that Walmart is also aggressive in providing nontraditional consumer services, such as banking and medical care.

"They've taken in an in-store clinic from the Fairfield Medical Center," he said. "I think, down the road, it will be harder and harder for some people to see a doctor. This way, they don't have to make an appointment and they can walk right in and see a practitioner."

Keeping dollars local

The Marysville development district known as Coleman's Crossing was also spurred by Walmart, according to Eric Phillips, executive director of the Union County Economic Development Partnership.

The area looked significantly different six years ago, before Walmart opened a 206,000-square-foot Supercenter on the city's east side.

"Walmart is one of the reasons that Coleman's Crossing happened in the first place," he said.

Coleman's Crossing is home to a number of small chain businesses and locally owned eateries in several strip centers.

Most of the development, aside from the YMCA, has come in the years since Walmart moved into the building formerly occupied by Lowe's, Phillips said.

"It definitely had an impact from the standpoint of bringing people to town," he said. "Once that whole shopping area was built - which was about 700,000 square feet built between City Gate and Coleman's Crossing -the Walmart did bring in a lot more people from outside the area. That also started a restaurant boom. There were a lot of people in that area that you hadn't seen before, so our restaurants had a boom at the same time."

Delaware's Walmart provided similar opportunities for residents.

Although the big-box store has been a fixture on U.S. Route 23 in Delaware since 1993, Frank Ciarochi, city manager from 1989 to 1998, remembers a time when residents only had three grocery stores to choose from and not many other options.

"It brought a level of merchandise that maybe wasn't always available to many in the community," Delaware City Council Vice President Windell Wheeler said.

Walmart came first to the Delaware Community Plaza Shopping Center; a Kroger store was built there almost simultaneously. A men's and women's clothing store, a restaurant and a sub shop followed.

Local philanthropy

Mary Hudson, executive director of the Reynoldsburg Visitors and Community Activities Bureau, said Walmart has been a great community partner in that city.

"They helped us get the city's Community Clean-Up Week off the ground a few years ago; they gave us seed money," Hudson said.

"The company is 'green,' so they thought our clean-up campaign with SWACO (Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio) was wonderful."

As a member of the Delaware Chamber of Commerce, Walmart participates to the extent that it can, chamber president Holly Quaine said.

"They've been good neighbors, from our perspective," she said.

Jennifer Ruhe, director of communications for Delaware City Schools, also spoke of Walmart's role in the community.

"The Delaware Walmart has been very supportive of the schools," she said, noting that the store routinely supports individual projects with donations of supplies. Walmart has also given the district "very large" donations of school supplies for students and classrooms in need, she said.

"They have been a good community partner with our school district," Ruhe said.

In Grove City, Chuck Boso recounts similar stories.

"They have numerous fundraising events for various causes here," Boso said. "Anything from the Buckeye Ranch to Children's Hospital to donating time on parks projects. They've been very good to the community."

Law enforcement

Local law enforcement officials said any increase in retail development - not just the arrival of a Walmart - brings additional calls for police services.

Lt. Scott McKinley of the Reynoldsburg Police Department said the Taylor Square business corridor is a mixed blessing.

"Obviously, when you have a huge number of commercial developments go into an area like that, the community is glad because it increases jobs, it increases tax revenues, additional resources for citizens," he said. "However, you've also got the bad things. Traffic is greater and people commit crimes when there's that many businesses. We take shoplifters out of there, and people who steal things from cars.

"There's nowhere else to compare it to in Reynoldsburg because that is the business concentration," McKinley said.

According to Reynoldsburg police records, between January and May of this year, there were a total of 170 calls for service to Walmart and its parking lot area, compared to a total of 490 calls for service to the entire Taylor Square shopping center during the same period.

Delaware City Police Chief Russ Martin has been with his department for 30 years and remembers when Walmart came to the city. Like any large retailer, he said, when Walmart opened, there was an initial increase in reports of passing bad checks, forgeries and shoplifting.

"Any business generates more activity than an open cornfield," he said.

Police have worked with Walmart and other retailers in the Delaware Community Plaza Shopping Center on loss-prevention training to help identify bad checks and forgeries and to prevent shoplifting, he said.

"Over time, a lot of those crimes have tapered off or have decreased," Martin said, calling the criminal activity at Walmart typical of similar retail establishments in the area.
"I would not categorize it as a problem," he said.

Emergency services in Orange Township aren't feeling taxed by Walmart, officials said. In 2010, 33 of the 2,000 runs made by the Orange Township Fire Department were to Walmart, Fire Chief Tom Stewart said. Similarly, at the Lewis Center Walmart, Agan said police services are used just like any other business.

"There's shoplifting and the like, but the taxes the developments pay help support the schools and parks," he said. "So which do you want?"

Information for this story and the entire Walmart series was provided by ThisWeek reporters Jennifer Noblit, Bonnie Butcher, Jessica White, Sarah Sole, David S. Owen, Lin Rice, Michael J. Maurer and Jennifer Nesbitt.