Wal-Mart is Almost Here
As gray skies and rainy days prepare us for the long northern Ohio winter, Oberlin prepares for another climate change: the grand opening of Wal-Mart, slated for October 9. At the intersection of Routes 20 and 58 just south of downtown Oberlin, the recently completed Wal-Mart façade and vast parking lot sits patiently awaiting customers.
Local businesses, community members and students alike appear ambivalent about how Wal-Mart will affect Oberlin. Most reservations expressed concerned how Wal-Mart will affect downtown Oberlin’s small businesses.
“I have nothing but contempt for Wal-Mart. [It] is going to hurt the bottom line and put stores out of business,” said Grant Huling, a College senior who works at Campus Video and with shopoberlin.org, an organization that supports local businesses by educating students and the community about locally-available goods and services.
Nevertheless, Huling is optimistic about Oberlin’s future: “Oberlin is going to outlive Wal-Mart because of [its unique] culture,” he said. “Wal-Mart doesn’t have a future; it’s unsustainable. The future is more local.”
Geof Comings, director of Main Street Oberlin, a nonprofit organization that supports the downtown Oberlin district, agreed that Oberlin will be resilient in response to the new Wal-Mart.
“Wal-Mart will have less of an impact on Oberlin than on other cities because of the college and students,” Comings explained. “Kendal residents are also very supportive of downtown [businesses].”
The Wal-Mart corporation selected Oberlin as a building site because research showed that a significant number of shoppers at the Elyria Wal-Mart had Oberlin and Wellington zip codes.
“I don’t mind [bringing] that revenue [to] Oberlin,” said Oberlin city council president Dan Gardner.
Analysts predict that Wal-Mart will bring $100,000 in new revenue to the city of Oberlin through wage taxes and property taxes, which will benefit the Oberlin City schools. Gardner explained that Wal-Mart might positively serve low-income community members, many of whom do not have cars and currently travel several hours by public transportation to shop cheaply in Elyria.
“[City Council] negotiated highest standards of development to set the tone for what the city expects from development in the future,” Gardner explained. The city council and Wal-Mart also made a verbal agreement that the large store would give employee preference to Oberlin residents.
Jennifer McCoy, manager of the Oberlin Wal-Mart, predicts that the relationship between Oberlin and Wal-Mart will be positive.
“Wal-Mart will benefit everyone because it will save people money,” McCoy said, saying that Wal-Mart will save shoppers an average of $2,600 per year.
When asked if Wal-Mart will change downtown Oberlin, McCoy responded: “I don’t think [Wal-Mart] will affect downtown businesses because they are so unique.”
Prior to its grand opening, Wal-Mart made a charitable contribution of $5,000 worth of school products to the Oberlin City schools. Future plans for community projects and donations include a $35,000 contribution to the community that will be presented at the grand opening festivities, which have yet to be disclosed.
Despite arguments that Wal-Mart will have positive effects on Oberlin, many fear that the cons will outweigh the pros.
“[All of the arguments about Wal-Mart’s positive effects] are a seductive line of reasoning,” said Huling. “In the end, it undermines the local economy.”
“Saving nickels may not be saving nickels,” said Gardner. “Most Wal-Mart dollars go to [the corporate headquarters in] Arkansas.”
Dave Parsh, owner of Dave’s Army/Navy, is also not very optimistic: “The retail bleed has already started. Everyone is struggling, trying to survive the chaos and car traffic.”
Parsh suggested that students wishing to support Oberlin’s downtown businesses “appreciate what’s here.” If something is missing from the downtown marketplace, he added, “just ask.”
“Acknowledge that we have something wonderful here and pay tribute to that,” Huling suggested. “Realize that [students] can interact with the businesses [in downtown Oberlin.] After all, we live with them.”