Six years after coming to Canal Winchester, Walmart has been more of a blessing than a burden to the community, local officials say.
“There was a great deal of controversy in the village when they chose to locate here, no doubt about it,” said Nanisa Osborn, city finance director. “A lot of people would have preferred they not be in the area.”
At the time, Walmart had proposed two locations off Gender Road, one north of U.S. Route 33 in the city of Columbus, and one at its current location in Canal Winchester. Osborn said the view that ultimately prevailed was that the then-village would suffer from increased traffic congestion either way, so it might as well have the tax revenue that would accompany the development.
Today, Walmart is the city’s third-largest employer. TS Trim was recently listed as the largest with 520 employees and the school district was second, with about 420 employees. Walmart employs about 320 people, Osborn said, all of whom pay city income taxes.
Another development effect is that Walmart is among the 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,” Mayor Michael Ebert said.
Ebert noted that Walmart is also aggressive in providing nontraditional consumer services, such as banking and even medical care.
“They’ve taken in an in-store clinic from the Fairfield Medical Center,” Ebert 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.”
Ebert, who did not take office until 2008, said he did not believe any business had closed because of competition from Walmart.
“I’ve talked to some of our downtown merchants who were here long before Walmart, and I think they have felt some effect when Walmart first moved to town,” Ebert said. “But I think there is a lot of loyalty from the old-timers in town who have gone to these merchants for years — and go to Walmart as well. Now, five, six, seven years later, I don’t think it’s affecting the downtown merchants that much.”
Osborn said the business that was most affected was Bolenbaugh Hardware, which has worked to promote its relatively higher service value over the volume and prices of big-box retailers.
“I think they have shifted their target audience, and they’ve done some advertising and additional things they did not necessarily do before,” Osborn said. “They have positioned themselves as a place to go where you can get the help you need, not just the hardware.”
Osborn said a large business such as Walmart also participates in community activities.
“For us, they are a good corporate citizen,” Osborn said. “They participate in the community, they do a good business there. They have a large number of employees who contribute to our tax base, so on the finance side, they are good for Canal Winchester.”
Ebert said Canal Winchester is adding a second left-turn lane on Gender Road to handle increased traffic flow in the area as businesses continue to grow. Overall, he said the development has promoted the community.
“We’re happy to have them,” he said.