Shopping center owner says Valu Land closing due to Walmart – Opinions mixed from other businesses

September 29, 2016

By Pat Maurer
Correspondent

With the announcement last week that Valu Land will be closing at the end of the year, some think that the “uncertainty” surrounding the arrival of Walmart may have been a factor in the Spartan-Nash corporate decision.

Dan Ashcraft, owner of the mall of which Valu Land is a part, thinks the grocery may be “Clare’s first casualty.”
In last week’s interview, Vice President of Corporate Affairs and Communications Meredith Gremel said, “The lease we have is up and the terms on extending it were not what we wanted to commit to in a long term lease.” She said the store would be closing its doors in December.

“Their answer [for the decision] is vague,” Ashcraft said. “Their leaving can be summed up in one word – Walmart.” He stressed that the uncertainty of whether they are coming or not is causing many business owners “a kind of anguish.”

“I don’t think people realize what just the threat of their coming has done to local businesses. Nobody seems to be talking about it.”
He said, “If people think there’s not going to be negative effects, they are wrong. There is already uncertainty in the market place which has caused lower business property values.

He continued, “They were in a terrible position and had to make a tough decision. Those same kind of decisions will be made all over. Valu Land is just the first victim of Walmart coming.”

Witbeck’s Family Foods owner Jerry Witbeck disagreed. “I have been told that the decision was made because their [Valu Land’s] only option to renew their lease was for five or ten years,” he said in a phone interview Tuesday. He said the volume of business there may not have warranted keeping the store open.
He said, “When a store like ours, that makes (after taxes) less than one cent on a dollar sale .I think it would be noticed.”

Denny Sian of Clare Hardware said, “This is a topic that has two very opposing sides. You either really want it or you really don’t.”
He added, “I think there are certain businesses that will benefit, but a majority will not.  I think that there are many publications of the history and the impact of chain stores, and in particular Walmart, on communities.  These prior examples paint a picture of the sense of community at its roots starting to fade away.  A community to me is a place where people still go out of their way to help other people and people still know you by your name.  You can walk into many small businesses in our community and be greeted by your first name.  How often have you had that experience in a chain store, especially Walmart?”

He continued, “I bring up chain stores because I believe that Walmart will be just the beginning, and the beginning of the end of another community.  Chain stores result in the gutting of small downtown areas and empty store fronts.  In this rapidly changing world we live in, Clare still has a lot of character and I will hate to see this lost.  Another huge factor is the contributions made by businesses in Clare and surrounding areas to our schools, athletics, 4-H, charitable benefits, among many other requests and needs.  I don’t think that we will find Walmart helping our community with these needs.

Al White, Vice President of Cops and Doughnuts had a slightly different view. He said, “If Walmart comes to Clare it will hurt businesses that are in direct competition, because of their pricing.  These businesses cannot compete with pricing alone.  They must focus on the areas that large box stores lack, such as outstanding customer service.”

He added, “If Walmart comes to Clare, it will help some businesses by bringing people to the area who may otherwise pass by.  What we as a community need to do is find ways to attract people who shop at Walmart to visit downtown Clare.  Signing would be one example.”
He said, “Cops & Doughnuts does not feel that the addition of a Walmart will affect our business.”

Acting City Manager and City Treasurer Steven Kingsbury gave his personal opinion of the matter. “I think growth in the community is always good. The entire northern development has the opportunity to do good and bring more people into the community.”

Mayor Pat Humphrey agreed, “I have to feel that when you put something of that magnitude into our city, it’s got to be positive just because of the traffic it will generate in the city.”

He added, “Personally I’ve chosen to look at the positive side what’s happening here. There’s going to be some positive and some negative feelings. It’s an emotional issue, but I think it is going to be very positive for Clare.”

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