Businesses, residents' opinions vary about impact a Wal-Mart Supercenter might have on area

LITCHFIELD -- Wal-Mart is Ryan Wahl's favorite store. The 10-year-old Litchfield boy likes to look at the toys and the video games, but doesn't enjoy the trip to Willmar to get there. "It'd better come (to Litchfield)," he said of Wal-Mart. "Beca...

LITCHFIELD -- Wal-Mart is Ryan Wahl's favorite store.

The 10-year-old Litchfield boy likes to look at the toys and the video games, but doesn't enjoy the trip to Willmar to get there.

"It'd better come (to Litchfield)," he said of Wal-Mart. "Because I don't like to go to Willmar. It takes 30 minutes too long."

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is examining whether enough Litchfield area residents have similar feelings. The retailer is looking at 25 acres of land east of Litchfield on U.S. Highway 12 as a possible site for a Wal-Mart Supercenter.

The Supercenter stores combine the retailer's discount store departments with a full grocery. Sometimes they also include a tire shop, vision center and one-hour photo processing.


A Wal-Mart official said the company is still evaluating whether to build in Litchfield and could decide in the next couple months.

"We're hoping to be able to go forward there," said Ryan Horn, a Wal-Mart spokesman.

The news has brought both apprehension and excitement to Litchfield. Some business owners fear the store will take away their customers and cause downtown businesses to close.

Others, including some business owners, think Wal-Mart will help other stores by keeping shoppers in town.

There are two Wal-Mart stores within 30 miles of Litchfield -- a Supercenter in Hutchinson and a discount store in Willmar. Wal-Mart is planning to replace Willmar's discount store with a Supercenter.

Wal-Mart, based in Bentonville, Ark., has more than 3,600 stores in the United States and 1,570 stores in other countries. Its sales in its last fiscal year ending Jan. 31, 2005, were $285.2 billion, according to its Web site.

Wal-Mart stores employ between 200 and 500 people and in Minnesota the average wage for a full-time hourly associate is $10.53 an hour, according to the Web site. The majority of employees at Wal-Mart stores are full-time, Horn said, but he could not give a specific percentage.

People shouldn't worry about Wal-Mart hurting their business, Horn said. Wal-Mart tends to be a shopping destination, which will both draw people to town and keep people from shopping out of town, he said.


"Obviously Wal-Mart is very interested in having a very successful business environment in the whole town," he said.

Meeker County Development Corp., a non-profit that helps foster economic development in the county, does not know how many residents shop outside the county, but director Suzanne Hedtke speculates that many travel to Willmar or Hutchinson.

"Maybe getting a Wal-Mart will keep people in the county," she said.

Bonnie Konietzko of Grove City shops at Wal-Mart in either Hutchinson or Buffalo about once a month. She said the possibility of a Wal-Mart coming to Litchfield is "awesome" and thinks the town could use more competition.

"I'd probably do it a little more often if it was local," she said of shopping at Wal-Mart.

But Lee Eby of rural Grove City said he's going to continue shopping at existing Litchfield businesses if Wal-Mart opens.

"Keeping my money local is more important to me than supporting a big conglomerate," he said.

Despite some empty storefronts, Litchfield has an active downtown as well as a busy commercial area on the east side of town off Highway 12.


The city has two grocery stores, a Pamida discount store and businesses that sell hardware, gifts and electronics.

Jim Theis, owner of Hardware Hank downtown, thinks Wal-Mart will affect his business, especially in the housewares area. But the store does offer things Wal-Mart doesn't, such as certain plumbing and sewage products and he might need to stock some of his departments differently, he said.

"I guess at this time we haven't really drawn a battle plan," he said.

Radio Shack owner Gary Smith isn't worried about his businesses, but thinks Wal-Mart will hurt other stores, such as tire shops, grocery stores and hardware stores.

"I've seen too many places where they've hurt a community," Smith said.

Alice Harding of Litchfield doesn't think Litchfield needs a Wal-Mart. She works at Pamida and said it has just about everything a person needs.

The impact to Pamida stores where there is also a Wal-Mart in town varies, said John Vigeland, a Pamida spokesman. Sometimes business goes down 4 percent to 6 percent, but in some cases sales increase because more people come to town, he said.

When the Pamida has a pharmacy, like Litchfield's does, the store does better at retaining its customer base because they're used to going there for prescriptions, he said.


The West Central Tribune attempted to talk to the grocery stores, Save-A-Lot and Econo Foods, but neither would comment. Econo referred the paper to a company spokesperson who didn't return a call.

Rick DeSmith, co-owner of Pizza Ranch in downtown Litchfield, thinks Wal-Mart will be good for his business, but thinks it could hurt the city's smaller shops.

More people might stay in town to shop if Wal-Mart opens, which could help other business, said Connie Wahl, owner of A Gift Experience downtown.

"I'm excited to see it come," Wahl said. "We've needed something for a long time."

But DeAnn Rothstein, who has owned DeAnn's Country Village Shoppe for 15 years, said Litchfield is already a shopping destination.

"We have a lot of out-of-town people that shop here, not because we have a Wal-Mart, but because they like our downtown," she said.

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