Some Retailers More Controversial Than Others

My wife and I have lived in the Villages of Urbana for 10 years. The Villages shopping center was under construction when we moved in and residents were excited about the prospect of a food store being built nearby. But as best I know, residents had no voice in selecting which retail chain would come in. There was disappointment when news broke that the store opening would be delayed due to internal squabbling between old Giant management and their new Dutch owner over store layout issues.

In Urbana, residents are welcoming plans for a new drugstore, and I haven’t heard any complaints over whether  it will be a CVS versus a Walgreen, etc.

On the other hand, there has been considerable public controversy in Frederick City regarding the Walmart proposal to build on the vacant Frederick Towne Mall site located on the Golden Mile. The latest news was that the city had approved the proposal.

Frederick Towne Mall occupancy has experienced a downward spiral over several years. Walmart took it upon itself to develop a proposal to build a rather elaborate complex including a large store, a park and even a bridge over a stream located north of the site.

Once the Walmart proposal became public, suggestions for alternate occupants began to flow. Residents suggested inviting stores like Old Navy, Ikea and some upscale retailers and restaurants to the neighborhood — but there were no proposals from any of those businesses.

WFMD morning radio host, Bob Miller, suggests Walmart may be victim of the same negative assessment I once heard expressed toward McDonalds. A man I met used the term, “ABM” — Anything But McDonalds. Although I can understand that persons with strong loyalties to organized labor might fall into the anti-Walmart camp, I wonder if there is also, as Miller suggests, a certain snobbery driving the criticism. For purposes of full disclosure, I am a customer at both Walmart and McDonalds and I own stock in both.

Another situation involving Walmart and other large retailers is playing out in the District of Columbia.  The D.C. Council passed a living wage law that would require retailers with large land footprints to pay a higher minimum wage than would be required of smaller businesses. Establishing a higher wage demand for large footprint retailers risks their cancelling plans to locate in the District. As I write this, the D.C. mayor has a chance to veto the proposal.

The shopping center in the Villages has two pads yet to be developed. I doubt the shopping center owner would be influenced by resident suggestions regarding possible tenants unless residents judged the proposed tenants as being out of character for the area.

Editor’s Note: Rich Terselic is a member of the board of directors of the Villages of Urbana Homeowners’ Association.


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