Tough sell

First Posted: 2/26/2014

Walmart, which always seems to be coming to a neighborhood near yours, is finding St. Pauls a tough sell — and it’s not like the merchandise isn’t pretty tasty.

The retail giant is promising 90 new jobs for the town, and most of them pay a decent-if-not-great wage of $12 an hour and many of them would pay more. The town would receive more than $12,000 a year in property taxes, not sufficient to lower the tax rate but enough to provide some revenue for municipal projects that are necessary but too costly. Walmart would offer residents discounted prices that would free up money to be spent elsewhere. And finally, Walmart is well-known for its benevolence and making significant donations to worthy local nonprofits.

But St. Pauls is lining up squarely against granting Walmart the conditional-use permit it needs to build what would be a 41,000-square-foot grocery store and pharmacy on Broad Street, between South Wilkinson Drive and Odum Street. On March 3, with about 100 residents in attendance and many of them vocal in their opposition, the town Planning Board voted 6 to 2 to recommend to the town’s Board of Commissioners that the permit be denied. At this point, it would be a major upset if the Board of Commissioners didn’t go along with that recommendation during its March meeting.

Opponents have expressed concerns about additional traffic in what is essentially a residential community. Other businesses tend to pitch a tent beside Walmart locations in an effort to take advantage of the traffic, and if there were a problem, that would make it a bigger one. But it should be remembered this is not a Walmart Supercenter, and would be a grocery store and pharmacy with ample competition.

We also know that there is a concern that Walmat, which can buy in bulk, would offer discounted prices that make it impossible for local businesses, many of them mom and pop, to compete and some longtime fixtures in the town might be forced to close. But it will always be the choice of local residents on where they buy their food and medicine.

The town Board of Commissioners did make one concession, agreeing to a request from Walmart to delay a vote on the matter until it could hold a “meet-and-greet” session with residents so that it could allay their concerns. That happened on Tuesday night, but only a handful of residents attended — and several this newspaper spoke with seem satisfied.

We find it disappointing that more St. Pauls residents didn’t bother to get the other side of the story. It’s one thing to oppose the location of a Walmart grocery store in St. Pauls, but it’s something else to take an unrelenting posture that is based on incomplete information.