GLOVERSVILLE – It’s been a longstanding fear of close-knit communities ever since chain stores and eateries started dotting the consumer landscape in small towns.
The apprehension that adding a big box corporate store to a community will drain it of the flavor that makes the individual market unique is nothing new.
Over the years as the Walmart Supercenter has been planned, officials have noted its opening will attract more businesses and shoppers to the area around it, citing the development around the Walmart Supercenter in Amsterdam as an example. Gloversville in particular is budgeting for hundreds of thousands of dollars more in revenue from sales tax, which could help to offset property taxes.
Walmart also notes on its website that the Walmart Foundation donates funding to causes in communities around the world. In 2011, it gave $958.9 million in cash and in-kind contributions, according to the company’s website.
In Fulton County, Walmart has been in the town of Johnstown off Route 30A for more than 20 years. Conclusive evidence of whether that has hurt local small businesses is hard to find, but with the imminent opening of the Supercenter in Gloversville near the Fulton County Federal Credit Union, local business owners say they’re confident in the personalized shopping experience and unique inventory they offer to maintain their customer base.
“I don’t think it’s going to affect the downtowns that significantly,” said Dustin Swanger, president of Fulton Montgomery Community College and member of the Fulton and Montgomery Region CEO Roundtable. “We already have a Walmart, and we’ve already developed outward so most of our retail interactions are not in the downtowns.”
The CEO Roundtable held the first City Revitalization Symposium for the area in December where business and government officials gathered to formulate game plans for their respective downtowns.
“Downtowns tend to have specialty shops, so I don’t think [the Walmart Supercenter] is going to have a huge impact on downtowns, but it is certainly a call to action for us to define what our downtowns want to be,” Swanger said.
The direction downtowns seem to be heading is away from large retail centers and more to social gathering spaces, Swanger said.
“I think they’re more likely to be social gathering spaces and service centers. I think that’s the direction we’re going to see downtowns move,” Swanger said. “Look at Mohawk Harvest Cooperative Market. I would say that’s more of a specialty shop, and it’s doing very well.”
Plus, shops downtown tend to cater to a market other than discount or bulk item shopping.
Deb Sauber, owner of specialty consignment shop Panache Quality Consignments, located on Gloversville’s North Main Street, said she wasn’t sure if a Walmart Supercenter would detract from the area’s locally-owned businesses. Already the current Walmart sells apparel, but the shoppers at her consignment store are often looking to find something unique.
At her business, shoppers can buy and sell brand-name like-new clothing. She has several items for sale that otherwise require a trip to a larger city or an online order. Since they’re pre-owned, they can be purchased at deep discounts. Sauber enforces strict criteria for her consignment collection. The items must be current and like-new with no stains, tears or other blemishes.
“Walmart’s already up there. Time will tell,” Sauber said, as to whether the Walmart Supercenter will hurt local businesses or draw businesses away from downtown and close to that site.
“Small businesses – we just plug along day by day,” Sauber said. “It’s like that for all of us. If we can get from today to tomorrow, we’re doing good.”
The new Supercenter will offer groceries and an extended garden center. It also will have a Subway restaurant inside set to open around the same time in July.
“We’re not in the food market or anything like that. Basically for anything we have, if we’re going to lose people to Walmart, we probably already would have,” Sauber said.
Hannaford, headquartered in Maine, says it will stay in its current location after the old Walmart moves out.
“We don’t have any plans to go anywhere,” said Director of Communications for Hannaford Mike Norton. “We have a good operation there with our pharmacy and a community that is pretty responsive to us so we don’t plan to change anything.”
He said the supermarket has been at that location for about 20 years and wants to remain a part of the community when Walmart leaves its half of the building.
He said he didn’t know if Walmart leaving would affect Hannaford’s business, but the company will continue to focus on customers the way it always has.
“You never know with these things you have to keep serving your customers and let things take care of themselves,” he said. “Some customers may not like the [large Walmart store] experience so they might actually be more attracted [to Hannaford] when that happens. We feel good about how we serve our customers, so we will keep that up.”
Another Hannaford Spokesman Eric Blom, said Hannaford “welcomes competition.”
“It’s nothing new for us. We have competitors in all the markets where we do business. We’re really confident our customers will continue to appreciate our selection of food, in particular fresh meat and produce,” Blom said.
He said meat and produce are delivered daily and Hannaford’s Close to Home program provides local products.
“If you go into any of our supermarkets, you see products have shelf tags -signs on the shelves – that say ‘close to home.’ Those are either produced or grown locally,” Blom said. “We do have a wide selection of natural and organic products. If you walk into our store, you’ll see a sign of how many organic products are available that day. We understand that a lot of customers appreciate our natural and organic products and appreciate the wide variety.”
A call to Schenectady-based Price Chopper corporate officials was not returned in time for this article, but the store also has unique programs such as the Fuel AdvantEdge Card. Customers present the card at each shopping trip and earn discounts on eligible purchases for gasoline at participating Sunoco stations.
G&R Trends International Owner Gina Tollner said she’s not afraid of Walmart cutting into her business either. G&R Trends is a fashion boutique on North Perry Street in Johnstown that features clothing accessories and gift items she scouts at fashion shows in New York City.
Tollner opened the business about a year ago.
“Competition wise, I don’t think it’s going to matter much. We already have a Walmart. People are not going to find what I have in my store at Walmart,” Tollner said.
She added that consumers typically shop at several different stores. They don’t limit their purchases to one company.
“Women like a variety. They like going to different stores. They’re not just going to choose one over the other,” Tollner said.
She added that she often gives customers a more personal experience, too, and is flexible.
“We make our own rules here. You can always get a good deal. We always have stuff to give away. It’s not like we have a corporate office,” Tollner said.
Many of the businesses around the Walmart development don’t have concerns about the store being constructed.
“Bast Hatfield has been very good to work with,” said Timothy Myers, President and CEO of the Fulton County Federal Credit Union. “Communication between them and us has been fantastic and we couldn’t ask for anything better.”
He said the traffic pattern will improve the traffic flow for the bank, and with the building being right behind them it will increase the number of people that see its building.
“Hopefully [customers] will think it is a good place to do their banking and come in to join and find out what we are all about,” he said. “It will make us a lot more visible than we are today.”
Myers said Walmart and the credit union will share a sign once the construction is completed.
Bruce Gardner, owner of the Royal Bay Stable, which is located on Hales Mills Road Ext., said the only thing that concerns him is the traffic once the Walmart officially opens.
“I don’t know how it will be once people are in and out of there,” Gardner said. “The construction hasn’t bothered [the horses], but once people start coming I don’t know.”
The stable has been in operation for about 26 years and currently holds 10 horses on a daily basis, he said.
He also said he doesn’t believe the increased traffic will improve his business because many of the people who have horses either already have a location for them or take care of them themselves.
“Not since the economy went south, nobody is boarding horses anymore,” Gardner said. “It won’t affect our business at all.”