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Merchants discuss Wal-Marts arrival

SMOKEY POINT As Wal-Mart took the next step toward opening a store in Smokey Point, area merchants spoke about how the chain has impacted their businesses and communities.
Wal-Marts proposed 31-acre project, at the intersection of 172nd Street and 43rd Avenue, is seeking coverage under the Washington State Department of Ecologys National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System general permit for storm water discharges associated with construction activities.
City of Arlington Natural Resources Director Bill Blake and Senior Public Works Inspector Tim Cross summarized that Wal-Marts plans to meet the conditions of the NPDES permit would rely heavily on storm water infiltration beds and detention ponds.
Blake explained that Wal-Mart intends to include a storm water infiltration bed along 172nd Street, as well as storm water infiltration and treatment in the sites parking lot, to filter storm water before it could directly enter any stream. Cross elaborated that a drainage ditch along 43rd Avenue would lead into a constructed detention pond.
A water quality detention pond would also be located along 40th Avenue, while the sanitary sewer system of Marysville would handle the needs of the Wal-Marts garden, auto repair and trash compactor.
While Wal-Mart works to secure its permit, local businesses considered what the chains arrival could mean for them.
David Boulton, owner of Flowers by George on Olympic Avenue, believes the best way for his store to compete with chains such as Wal-Mart is to carry on business as usual.
Were already highly service-oriented, Boulton said. Weve kept ourselves unique by offering services such as same-day flower delivery, locally and even across the country, if you call early enough. I know the box stores have plant and garden departments, but they dont focus as much.
Boulton expressed confidence in his own stores prospects, as well as a desire to see his fellow Arlington merchants prosper, especially with the progress of the North Olympic Avenue Reconstruction Project.
I dont want to see Wal-Mart negatively affect any businesses, Boulton said. I want to watch Olympic Avenue grow. Hopefully, after its all repaved, more people will come downtown, park their cars, shop and have lunch here. I hope it might even attract more merchants, to fill in our empty storefronts, without the threat of Wal-Mart scaring them away from coming in.
Fellow Olympic Avenue merchant Mike Jones, owner of Arlington Hardware and Lumber, echoed Boultons ideas on how to coexist successfully with Wal-Mart.
Im nothing but optimistic for the future, Jones said. Were expanding and modernizing our building, and we plan to continue offering good customer service at good prices. Our business has never been better and I only expect it to grow, as more people come to this area to shop.
Jones acknowledged that the presence of chains such as Wal-Mart can change their surrounding communities, but he asserted that attentive service and knowledge of products trump cost-cutting.
We pay good wages to hire people who are experienced in plumbing and electrical work, who can give our customers solid advice, Jones said. Youll still find plenty of folks who prefer that to saving a few nickels and dimes.
On Marysvilles Third Street, the merchants have lived with the Wal-Mart in the nearby Quil Ceda Village for a few years, but much of the advice they offered has already been adopted by their peers in Arlington.
Dont panic, said Darlene Scott, owner of Carrs Hardware. Its natural for people to be curious and to want to try out things that are new. Ive been here long enough to see the highs and lows, and for all the fluctuations, it eventually evens out. With the way our population is growing, there should be a niche for everyone.
Fellow Third Street merchant Mary Burns, owner of the BookWorks, shares Scotts sentiment, that their stores offer customers services that they wont find at Wal-Mart. Even though Burns doesnt consider Wal-Marts products in direct competition with her own, she contended that the chain has influenced her business.
People arent likely to buy the books at Wal-Mart that I sell at my store, Burns said. But because people are spending more money and time over there, especially walking through that huge parking lot and waiting in those long lines, that leaves them with less time and money to spend here.
Burns explained that shes not only staged publicity campaigns for her own store, such as author signings, but shes also coordinated marketing strategies with her fellow Third Street merchants, to turn their shared location into a brand with its own identity.
Theres Phoenix Books, the Third Street Book Exchange and me, but were all different, so were not really in competition, Burns said. Were each more likely to succeed individually if we all succeed together. We all try harder and work harder to meet our customers needs. We hear from so many people that they love how independent and unique our stores are on Third Street, but if they dont keep coming, we wont be here.

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