Bring Wal-Mart Back!!

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Many small towns in the United States think of Wal-Mart as the killer of their businesses, the enemy of small town economy. That may very well be the case, but in one small Ohio city the economy could be better if Wal-Mart had not moved.

Coshocton, Ohio is a simple city a small town of roughly 12,000 people located 80 miles Northeast of Columbus. Coshocton had a once vibrant manufacturing economy that slowly faded away in the early 1990s when one factory after another began to close down.

“The economy got worse not only here locally but statewide. Businesses started going out. Lot of people had been laying off (workers). And retail was the big job market back in the 90s and early 2000s,” Coshocton Mayor Tim Turner said.

This job market got a boost when Wal-Mart moved into Coshocton in 1992. The retail store employed 200 workers. Residents were quickly drawn to the retail store. Relations between Coshocton and Wal-Mart seemed to be running smoothly until two years ago, when the company built a new, bigger store outside city limits.

“Wal-Mart’s a big outfit. They have their choice of where they want to go. I think the previous mayor tried to keep them in town,” Turner said.

But all attempts to keep Wal-Mart in Coshocton failed. The retail store left its building near downtown and built a 24-hour Supercenter four miles North on U.S. 36, in an area known as the North Corridor. The new store included a gas station, a Subway restaurant and a hair salon. The new location hurt Coshocton businesses next to the old location.

“We’d keep the banners, you know, whatever sale we’ve got going, so when they pulled into Wal-Mart they thought, Let’s go see what the sale is,” said Florence Whitken, Store Manager for Fashion Bug in Coshocton, which sits next door to the old Wal-Mart.

“It was big help having them there.”

Whitkens said Fashion Bug regulars still help the store turn a profit, but she said the clothing store has lost a considerable amount of business over the past two years. Stores near downtown are not the only ones who have lost business since Wal-Mart left city limits. Mayor Tim Turner said most of the businesses in Coshocton have felt the impact of Wal-Mart’s move. He said people outside the city haven’t been coming inside to do their shopping. Instead they go to Wal-Mart, which in most cases is closer and more convenient.

“Somebody lives, you know, ten miles from the city, may drive right past Wal-Mart,” said Turner. “They can do most of there where they can get their gas, they can get their groceries, they can buy their retail stuff. And it’s hard to draw them in.”

Because of Coshocton’s size, businesses rely on shoppers from both the city and surrounding areas like Warsaw, West Lafayette and Newcomerstown. And Wal-Mart’s new location in the county has given residents of those outlying areas a reason to avoid Coshocton completely.

“It’s a more comfortable drive because I don’t have to go through town,” said Carey Walters of Warsaw, Ohio. “I live outside of town and here, living inside of town, I don’t have that extra travel of traffic.”

“It’s closer to my home and I like it better because it’s easier to get to,” agrees Vicky Postlewate of Newcomerstown. “I don’t have to fight the traffic in town. So, I can just get on the highway and zip right here.”

Even though Wal-Mart’s move has hurt businesses, the move has not affected income tax revenues. Coshocton and Wal-Mart have a deal where the company agrees to pay income tax in return for fire, water and sewer services from the city. This tax deal also draws money from the other five businesses in the North Corridor.

Wal-Mart declined to be interviewed for this story, but the company did say it is very active in the community. Wal-Mart has donated over 20,000 dollars to local organizations including the three area high schools, the United Way and the Salvation Army.

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