Resident rallying opposition vs. Wal-Mart store

The announcement was made Friday that the Wal-Mart Corporation has plans to open a supercenter in Craig, and by Monday morning Cris Criswell was circulating a petition in opposition.

The fifth-generation Moffat County native doesn't know whether he'll be able to stop plans he think will severely affect existing businesses, but he's going to try.

"I just think it's really, really bad for the community," Criswell said. "I think it'll wreck a lot of stores. I think the downtown area will be just a ghost town if Wal-Mart comes to town."

Criswell hopes that sheer numbers will force Wal-Mart officials into changing their minds about the planned 100,000 square-foot, grocery/retail store combination.

"We're going to do whatever we can," he said. "I've lived in this community all my life, and I just see Wal-Mart as a bad thing."

Opinions remain mixed as to whether a supercenter, which at its planned size would be three times the size of Craig's Safeway store, would benefit Craig.

Although some think a larger selection and lower prices would be good for consumers, others think the superstore would take customers from local businesses and have a negative effect on the economy by providing low-paying jobs with few benefits.

Many others are torn between the two.

Wal-Mart officials announced plans last week to open a 100,000 square-foot store in Craig. Although the exact opening date is unknown, spokeswoman Daphne Moore said the construction phase would last about 10 months.

Speculation that Wal-Mart was looking at Craig as a possible location peaked in January when corporate officials confirmed they were looking at potential sites.

Local officials didn't roll out the welcome wagon.

Then-mayor Dave DeRose argued that Wal-Mart didn't always offer the best prices and that it wouldn't necessarily increase sales tax revenue.

"It wouldn't bring new jobs, it would just shift existing jobs," DeRose said in January. "If (a Wal-Mart) came here, it would probably hurt one of our big businesses and lots of our little businesses. I don't want to see empty buildings."

Mayor Don Jones has adopted a "wait-and-see" attitude. He's reserving comment until Wal-Mart officials meet with city officials Wednesday. Although he said he expects the city will be asked to provide incentives, he doesn't think the request will receive a positive response.

"Personally, I'm not a big fan of incentives," he said. "If you look at a community to move into, you've pretty much done your homework and know what the community could support. You factor those costs in."

Unlike the city of Steamboat Springs, which has an ordinance banning so-called "big-box retailers," there is nothing in Craig's code that would prevent Wal-Mart from moving in.Jones thinks that's how it should be.

"It's not fair to citizens to limit development," he said.

City manager Jim Ferree said he thinks Wal-Mart will pull much of its customer base from existing businesses because those in surrounding communities already have access to a Wal-Mart.

Nadine Daszkiewicz, owner of The Kitchen Shop in Craig, isn't worried.

"I think most of us have dealt with the presence of a Wal-Mart for years," she said. "I don't see us suffering.

Daszkiewicz think many residents already shop at Wal-Mart -- they're just leaving town to do so.

"This might save people a trip to Grand Junction," she said. "Competition is good. Let (local businesses) compete."

She plans to stay in business by continuing to offer the quality, one-of-a-kind products not offered by the large retailer.

She is concerned that if businesses close, employees will go to work at Wal-Mart for lower wages and fewer benefits than they're getting from existing jobs.

"The next year should be very, very interesting," she said.

Business Week reports the average wage of a Wal-Mart associate is $8.23 an hour, which equals $13,861 a year, but Wal-Mart estimates its average wage for Colorado is $10.71 an hour.

Craig resident Shannon Mays is riding the fence in her opinions about Wal-Mart, voicing similar concerns.

"I've heard bad things, and I've heard good things," she said. "I'd like it because you can get everything you need at once and there would be a better selection, but I like Craig's small-town atmosphere and I don't want to see businesses hurt."

Oscar King thinks the benefit of a small town is a resident's loyalty and that people will continue to shop at the businesses that currently serve them.

He's not opposed to a Wal-Mart, rather, he thinks having a supercenter in Craig could keep people from traveling out of town to shop.

"The people I do business with here in town, I'll still do business with," he said.

It's been more than a year since Wal-Mart opened a supercenter in Rifle. City officials report record sales tax revenue increases.

Rifle residents faced the same diversity of opinion that Craig residents now face.

"There were a lot of feelings on both extremes," Rifle Finance Director Nancy Black said about the climate before Wal-Mart's opening. "Shoppers were excited. Having a Wal-Mart here saves a lot of travel time. Businesses met it with mixed feelings."

Those feelings included fear that Wal-Mart would drown out the little guy and hope that it would bring more customers, Black said.

"Wal-Mart can enhance your business just by being here," she said. "For a majority of businesspeople, I think Wal-Mart has helped."

For Craig resident Arline Lewis, there's no question. She wants to see a Wal-Mart in Craig.

"We need a little competition," she said. "I'm tired of going to Steamboat Springs (to shop)."

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