A Springfield-based nonprofit group that provides support to independent businesses is lending a voice of opposition to proposed plans to build a new Wal-Mart in Columbia.
The Hometown Merchants Association met Monday with area business owners, urging them to form a Columbia chapter of the organization. Only four people attended the afternoon meeting with the group’s director, Donna Kennedy, who also spoke at Monday night’s City Council hearing on Grindstone Plaza, a 53-acre development in south Columbia that would be anchored by a Wal-Mart Supercenter.
“Our main concern is to protect the cities,” Kennedy said before the organization’s meeting on Monday. “Wal-Mart is everywhere; they take advantage of our tax dollars.”
The council tabled the Grindstone Plaza proposal Monday.
Hometown Merchants devoted to fair competition
Kennedy said Hometown Merchants is devoted to creating fair competition by giving independently owned businesses a “seat at the table.”
Kennedy said more business owners expressed interest in the association but couldn’t make it to the meeting. She said the group is supported by people ranging from Lt. Gov. Joe Maxwell to local business professionals. She says the association is not specifically opposed to Wal-Mart, it is just concerned about the problems that the giant retailer poses to losing local businesses.
Kennedy came to Columbia at the request of Mary Lottes, a member of the Columbia Parks Board and an opponent of the Grindstone project.
“I’m concerned about helping small businesses and maintaining the character of our community and keeping our town and other surrounding towns alive,” Lottes said in an interview before Monday’s Council meeting.
Hometown Merchant's member concerned about effects on local economy
However, one of Hometown Merchants’ newest members, Walker Claridge, co-owner of The Root Cellar at 21 N. Providence Road, acknowledged the group is worried about the proliferation of Wal-Marts hurting local businesses and the local economy.
“If that means we’re against Wal-Mart, then, yeah, we’re against them,” Claridge said. “Wal-Mart carries a lot of products that local businesses in our community sell, and that money goes to Arkansas. Every product sold at my store is made by someone in the surrounding community.”
President of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce Don Laird disagreed with Claridge, saying that large retail chains such as Wal-Mart make the local economy attractive to other businesses.
“When you have a significant retail chain in place, you draw in significant customers from out of town,” Laird said. “Other businesses position themselves along that retail chain and feed off it.”
Kennedy says Supercenters hurt economy
But Kennedy said the increase in Supercenters does hurt the economy. She said research conducted by Hometown Merchants found that in the Joplin area, where there are three Supercenters in a seven-mile radius, there was 1 million square feet of vacant retail space as of January.
“You’re going to have developers from other states who come in here, build and leave,” Kennedy said. “They’re not going to care what happens here.”