Small business owners address concerns on Walmart's arrival to Watch Tower Plaza


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Posted Online: Dec. 08, 2012, 10:53 pm
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By Eric Timmons, etimmons@qconline.com
Walmart's huge footprint could mean renaissance or ruin for small businesses on Rock Island's west side.

"It's a chance for rebirth," businessman Randy Webster said of the pending arrival of the world's largest retailer to Watch Tower Plaza.Mr. Webster owns Comfort Furniture, housed inside the old shopping center.

Sometime next year, his business will have disappeared to be replaced by a parking lot in front of a 189,000-square-foot Walmart Supercenter, as part of an agreement the city has been working on for more than a year.

Mr Webster said the arrival of Walmart is good news for Rock Island and good news for his business, which he opened just 15 months ago.

He'll move elsewhere in Rock Island, aided by a relocation assistance package from the city, and he said he's likely to end up with improved premises.City officials told Mr. Webster his business would have to be moved by next March or April.

The Walmart Supercenter will be sandwiched between 9th and 11th streets, stretching from where the VFW building stands to the Illinois Iowa Independent Living Center. The store will face south, with a 938-space parking lot.

A drive-through pharmacy, a tire center and a garden center will be included in the Walmart Supercenter, the city's drawing shows.

Not everyone is happy, however, about Walmart's arrival to Rock Island.

Clifford Mendelson, a part owner of the building leased to Walgreen's on 11th Street, said Walmart would hurt competing small businesses.

"It strikes me that small towns that get into bed with Walmart tend to look back at it differently than when they first went in," he said.

But Kevin Peschang, owner of Blackhawk TV, an electronics store on Blackhawk Road in Rock Island, said competition from big-box stores for small businesses already existed across the Quad-Cities.

"They sell TV products like I do, but we already have Sam's Club, Walmart and Best Buy near here, so I don't think a Walmart in Rock Island is going to hurt me any more," he said.

A bigger concern for businesses such as his, Mr. Peschang said, is the Internet, which he said hurt his bottom line more than competition from big-box stores as electronic devices become lighter and easier to ship. Online retailers such as Amazon have an advantage because they are not required to apply sales taxes, he said.

Once in place, city officials said they hope Walmart will act as a magnet for other businesses. Two out lots to the north and south of the new Walmart will cover just under four acres, and the city hopes to attract some new businesses to them.

"I think there's a substantial opportunity, and I think we'll be able to develop a lot of other properties once we get Walmart in there," Rock Island Mayor Dennis Pauley said.

While the new Walmart will mean more competition for existing businesses in Rock Island, some business owners said it also will bring more opportunity, especially along the 11th Street corridor.

"I love it and I want it," said Bruce Strader, owner of Quality Plus Body Shop on 11th Street. "More traffic means more business, and it's good to see that Rock Island is finally getting on the ball."

John Hurt, who works at Crogaerts Great Outdoors, a fishing store located on 11th Street south of Watch Tower, said he is looking forward to the additional traffic Walmart will bring to the area.

Crogaerts sells specialized fishing gear, and he said he doesn't think the limited range of equipment sold at a typical Walmart will hurt the business. Any money taxpayers will put into luring Walmart to Rock Island is an "investment" that should pay off, he added.

"The city of Rock Island seems to be losing more and more business all the time,so I think anything coming to Rock Island is going to help us," Mr. Hurt said.

City officials expect construction of the new Walmart to start next year, and Mayor Pauley said there's a chance the store could be open by next Christmas.
























 



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