Delaware's retail landscape changed when Walmart opened a store 18 years ago.
Wendy Howell of Delaware said Walmart is her first choice over other stores.
“Walmart pours resources back into the community,” she said.
Then there's the matter of prices: Howell said she believes Walmart increases people's purchasing power because when a Walmart comes to a community, competing stores lower their prices. Upon comparing prices, Howell said, she found Walmart's to be cheaper.
“Walmart is here; they are who they are,” Delaware Area Chamber of Commerce president Holly Quaine said.
As a member of the chamber, Walmart participates to the extent that it can, Quaine said; the company participates in sponsorships and donates to the chamber's annual auction dinner.
“They've been good neighbors, from our perspective,” Quaine said.
Jennifer Ruhe, director of communications for Delaware City Schools, said the Delaware store "has been very supportive of the schools."
She noted 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.
Expanding commercial offerings
Though Walmart has been a fixture on U.S. Route 23 since 1993, Frank Ciarochi, city manager from 1989 to 1998, remembers a time when residents only had three grocery stores to choose from: Kroger on South Sandusky Street, Buehler's on West Central Avenue and the U.S. Store on North Sandusky Street.
Walmart's arrival opened the U.S. 23 corridor for development, he said.
Land was annexed from Delaware Township to the city, and the city assisted in providing water and sewer lines for future development.
“It brought a level of merchandise that maybe wasn't always available to many in the community,” 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.
Within three years after Walmart opened, a hotel and two banks opened in the area, Ciarochi said. After five years, the Stratford Woods residential development opened behind Walmart.
While some residents liked the idea that a Walmart would mean more available shopping in Delaware, others feared the arrival of a Walmart would kill the downtown area, Ciarochi said. Quite a few people raised issues about traffic on U.S. Route 23, he said.
City finance director Dean Stelzer also recalls mixed public opinion. Some downtown business owners were concerned that a Walmart would take away business, while others thought a Walmart would bring business to the area, Stelzer said.
“It wasn't like everybody was completely against it,” he said.
After Walmart opened, a couple smaller businesses probably went under, Ciarochi said. Still, he said, it would be difficult to prove Walmart was responsible.
“I'm sure there were some businesses that were adversely affected,” he said.
Though a person tries to watch out for competition in dealing with new development, it's not the city's job to regulate that competition, he said.
Doug Garver, who served as county economic development director from 1993 to 1999 and previously worked as a consultant for the county, said when Walmart was built, the county was changing from a rural to a suburban community.
“I think there were some changes occurring in the downtown,” he said.
While some of the locally owned businesses were starting to disappear, Garver, like others, said he doesn't know if this could be attributed to Walmart.
“Folks were looking for retail opportunities,” he said.
Downtown real estate developer and property owner C. Joseph Diamond owns Rosebud Properties, Tone Holding and Diamond Design and Planning.
He has been involved in the renovation of about 15 downtown properties.
When Walmart came to the city, Diamond was working at the city planning department as an associate planner.
At that point, he said, the downtown area had two or three hardware stores, multiple pharmacies, clothing and shoe stores, and other general household retail operations.
“All of that has gone away since Walmart has come,” Diamond said, although he said he thinks Polaris Fashion Place has had more of an impact on the downtown Delaware businesses than Walmart.
Local business adapt
In some cases, small local businesses have to provide unique services in order to stay profitable, Diamond said.
Diamond's wife, Linda, owns Beehive Books with partner Mell Corroto.
Since Beehive can't purchase books at the same price that Walmart can, they find other ways of providing extra customer service, becoming what he calls a “specialty retailer.
“That's the only way that you can survive,” he said.
The annual Delaware City Directories printed by R.L. and Polk Co. show the changes in businesses before and after Walmart.
The following downtown stores closed after Walmart opened: C.J. Wilson’s, 24 N. Sandusky St.; Parker's Menswear, 35 N. Sandusky St.; Gray's Shoes, 33 N. Sandusky St.; Bauereis Shoes, 28 N. Sandusky St.; the U.S. Store, 17 N. Sandusky St.; and Pilsner's Five and Dime, at 30 N. Sandusky St. The Peoples Store, 18 N. Sandusky St., sold mainly clothing.
It became Ulhman's by 1993 and closed in 1997.
The directories also show several businesses that predated Walmart still exist.
Consignment clothing shop Toujours at 8 N. Sandusky St., open since the mid-1980s, is one such store. Owner Susie Stromberg said she's gradually carried more upscale clothing and tries to carry current styles.
A first-time business owner, Stromberg, who purchased the store as its fourth owner in 1999, said she was advised to consider Walmart as competition.
Still, she said, “There are people that like to thrift shop.”
Relying on word-of-mouth for business, Stromberg describes the shopping atmosphere at Toujours as casual and personable.
“We know most of our customers by name,” she said.
Crime and traffic
Delaware City Police Chief Russ Martin has been with his department for 30 years and remembers when the Walmart came to the city. Like any large retailer, he said, when Walmart opened, there was an initial increase in reports of 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 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.
While people sometimes believe that a particular business is going to create a lot of crime, “what's more important is to look at what is the general nature of the business and the surrounding area,” Martin said.