Small business owners and employees throughout the Ellisville area Monday said the benefits of increased traffic due to a newly permitted Walmart might be outweighed by competitive pricing.
A mix of enthusiasm for potentially revitalized business and concern about a negative impact on competing stores comes less than a week after the Ellisville City Council voted in favor constructing a Walmart southwest of Manchester and Kiefer Creek roads.
“Overall, I’m not a proponent of Walmart," said Jim Randall, owner of ASAP BBQ in Ballwin, located less than a mile east of the Walmart project site. "Walmart and small business don’t go real well together.”
Randall said part of his concern is the company’s relationship with its vendors, which sometimes puts high demand on its business partners regarding pricing and output.
"They keep demanding price decreases year after year after year, and while you might achieve some economy of scale, they ultimately squeeze you.”
“That being said, they don’t provide barbecue restaurants and they’re going to increase foot traffic up and down Manchester Road, which means I may benefit from the time that they’re there as a restaurant,” Randall said. “I’m kind of torn as you see. It could be good for me but I don’t think it’s good in general for small business.”
Critics of the project have cited its impact on residents that will be displaced by the development, in addition to objections that the project was permitted with a tax increment financing or TIF district, which will allow half of all new sales tax generated within the district to be given to the Sansone Group, the project's developer. According to state law, money in the TIF fund must be used for infrastructure improvements to the surrounding area.
Proponents of the project, meanwhile, including former mayor and current City Council member Matt Pirrello said Walmart should create roughly $500,000 annually for the city, and should help stave off any possible reductions in city services due to increased operation costs.
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Randall said that because many of the 37 parcels designated for the project are occupied by shuttered businesses, including four vacant auto dealerships, the space creates little revenue for the city.
“It’s abandoned … with weeds growing out of the properties which are not doing the City of Ellisville any good whatsoever,” Randall said. “It’s a tremendous eyesore. It makes it look like a ghost town.”
Among the active commercial structures at the site are Clarkchester Apartments, a 100-unit apartment complex, along with LC Auto Service, Valvoline auto and Westgate Animal Hospital.
Kateri Harris, Office Manager at Westgate Animal Hospital, expressed frustration about a lack of communication between the City of Ellisville and her employer regarding the project, which officially was approved Wednesday.
“We didn’t know they were coming to take soil samples. We didn’t know they were coming spray paint our driveway. We didn’t know that there was going to be a piece of equipment so large that it was going to fill up our entire driveway,” said Harris, who added that the hospital is not aware of any timeline for the project. “We would love some hard, concrete details.”
Westgate clients such as Ellisville resident Karen Freeman, 48, said that regardless of when the project advances, parting ways with the hospital after more than 30 years of business will be difficult.
“It’s like a small town, and that’s what I hate seeing go,” Freeman said of her family’s relationship with the hospital, which has treated her family’s pets for more than a generation.
John Mertrice, an assistant manager with Valvoline auto service, said the fate of the employees at his store is uncertain.
“I don’t really know what they’re going to do with us, if they’re going to build another store … I really don’t know.”
On the other side of Manchester Road at Fox's Pizza Den, manager Derek Coffman said having construction workers nearby while the store is being built should be a boon for his business.
“That’s definitely going to have an impact because they’re going to have to eat somewhere,” Coffman said. “With it being essentially across the street from us, that’s definitely going to help us out.”
Coffman said the addition of a Walmart also should increase traffic, which should enhance business once the retailer opens.
“I think it will help for sure,” Coffman said. “But there’s only one way to find out—to wait.”