Walmart: the culprit for the demise of Mom and Pop in Clio? Part 1 of 4: Downtown businesses mixed about department store super giant

wal-mart closeup

Photo by Richard Zowie

Please click here for Part 2 of this article, here for Part 3 and here for Part 4.

Two years ago, I wrote an article for a Michigan newspaper about Walmart and its impact on downtown businesses in Clio, Mich. At first, the editor I freelanced for asked me to shorten it. I did and then I suggested breaking it up into parts. She was interested, but before we could work that out, she resigned from the paper and was replaced by another editor. This new editor declined to run it, arguing the feature was too negative of Walmart. I disagreed with her since I let Walmart respond in detail and since the only two businesses critical of Walmart refused to go on record. Moreover, other businesses I interviewed were surprisingly positive in their thoughts of Walmart.

I wondered which of my blogs to post this under and finally decided to post it here. Yes, I also post fiction here but I still feel it’s better here since From A to Zowie is reserved for opinion. To me, the unbiased news and feature articles should never intersect with opinion.

In fairness, for the story I also asked Walmart’s opinion. The folks at the Clio, Michigan Walmart referred me to corporate public affairs. It took several weeks, but I was finally able to get their answers. They are incorporated into the article.

Is Walmart bad for small-town America? I’ve done my best to allow both sides to give their opinion. Now it’s up to you to read and decide for yourself.

So, here’s part one…

Walmart: the culprit for the demise of Mom and Pop in Clio?

Part 1 of 4: Downtown businesses mixed about department store super giant

By Richard Zowie 

CLIO, MICHIGAN. – Take a drive or walk in downtown Clio, and for some who have grown up here, the sight can be discouraging.

Some buildings, with their rich histories, are vacant with FOR SALE signs in their windows. If walls could talk, the buildings certainly would have endless, illustrious stories to tell about customers, products and services offered throughout the years.

downtown 2

Downtown Clio, Michigan, Spring 2007. Photo by Richard Zowie

Some businesses, such as Porky’s Hogg Trough, have closed and are now just a memory, a testament of how difficult it can be in today’s economy for businesses to stay afloat. Others struggle to stay in business. Among the many businesses in downtown Clio are an electrolysis shop, jewelry store, hardware store, sports wear shop, chiropractor, dance studio, pharmacy, pet feed and supply shop, insurance companies, mortgage lenders, banks and several restaurants.

When looking at the closed-up shops, the question arises: what ails downtown Clio? Is it the sluggish economy? The collapse of Delphi? The struggles of the Big Three automakers?

Some say the problem is only a couple of miles down on West Vienna Road in the form of a big-box store that offers low prices.

And if you ask around, you’ll find that the subject of Walmart in mid-Michigan is as controversial a subject as the state’s economy, Michael Moore and how to turn the seemingly-incorrigible Detroit Lions into a winning team.

For some, Walmart represents a chance to get department and grocery store shopping done with low prices that are painless for the checkbook and a godsend to a shoestring budget.

For others, Walmart is the epitome of Big Business whose philosophy of “Always Low Prices” forces local Mom & Pop stores to go out of business and threatens to write a disturbing chapter into a town’s economical history.

The debate has almost certainly continued with the opening last fall of a Walmart in the Clio area. Specifically, the store is located in Vienna Township right off of West Vienna Road on North Linden Road just west of Interstate 75. There are seven other Walmarts within a 25-mile radius of Clio. The closest is about 12.5 miles south in Flint. Saginaw has a Walmart. Grand Blanc and Saginaw both have Walmarts.

The Vienna Township Walmart is not the only big-box store in the area. Kmart is located at just east of I-75 on West Vienna Road. And in 2008, a Meijer store will open less than 10 miles north in Birch Run.

Frankenmuth residents have fought efforts to build a Walmart there.

In downtown Clio, especially among the businesses that have been open for decades, mentioning Walmart tends to invoke a lot of mixed discussion. Two businesses had very negative feelings about the department store super giant; one declined to be interviewed for this article while another refused to go on record. Others voiced their concerns about Walmart’s prices and how difficult it is to compete with them. Some businesses said they felt no negative impact from Walmart while some even stated that the store helped downtown businesses.

Debbie Taylor, who owns Floral Expressions on 186 W. Vienna Street, said that when Walmart first opened, she was worried at first.

“I think I’m more concerned about how Walmart affects other businesses in town, since it doesn’t carry a lot of what we carry except for flowers and plants,” she said. “If other businesses in town close, then this town starts looking a lot more vacant than it already is, and that’s not good for us. People then won’t stop [to shop] since there’s nothing in town.”

Taylor pointed out that Michigan’s sluggish economy, particularly in the auto industry, has not helped the local economy.

“We were affected a lot more when Delphi announced they were going bankrupt than when Walmart opened,” she said.