Cautious optimism

Local businesses still expect benefit from Wal-Mart opening

— It's always possible to have buyer's remorse when opening the box after a new purchase.

As Craig prepares to "open the box" on a new Wal-Mart SuperCenter, some local businesses remain cautiously optimistic about the new retailer's effect on the community.

"Predominantly, the feeling is very positive about the potential Wal-Mart has to draw customers from a regional base," said Christina Currie, Craig Chamber of Commerce executive director. "There are not many businesses concerned they will lose business from Wal-Mart."

Still, the Chamber membership - an estimated 70 percent of area businesses - has not experienced an increase in competition on this scale before, Currie said. When Kmart opened a bigger store, it just enlarged a business that already existed in town; and Country General, which eventually became Murdoch's, appeals to a specific customer need.

The Downtown Business Association had mixed feelings when word of Wal-Mart's arrival was mentioned, Currie said. One member of that group, The Kitchen Shop owner Nadine Daszkiewicz, was less concerned than others.

"It would have had a big impact on independent store owners 15 years ago," Daszkiewicz said. "There are so many Wal-Marts all over the place, and the people that will shop at Wal-Mart already shop there."

Local stores carry different merchandise than Wal-Mart, and at Daszkiewicz's shop, the brands offered are totally different, she said.

"Yes, we will have the same customers, but they'll want different things from each of us," Daszkiewicz said. "The more stores, the better. People will go there for things I don't have. The people that come into my store are looking for things they can't get anywhere else."

On the other had, some business owners are concerned about work-force shortages, Currie said. In a community like Moffat County, where unemployment is close to nonexistent, business owners are nervous about finding and keeping entry-level employees.

Tammie Thompson-Booker is the director of sales and marketing at the Holiday Inn of Craig, and though she has not seen a big effect on her work force, she said it has been hard for her business to find new employees.

"We have not seen the loss here," Thompson-Booker said. "I still think we're having challenges getting folks hired."

Where Thompson-Booker once saw walk-ins seeking work, she now sees fewer interested, despite consistent advertising.

For its part, Holiday Inn conducts employment satisfaction surveys twice each year to make sure staff is satisfied by their employer. The hotel learns that about 80 percent of its staff are satisfied each time, Thompson-Booker said.

In addition, Holiday Inn has begun wage satisfaction surveys, and the company recently gave its cleaning and front desk staff a raise, Thompson-Booker said. These studies were not done in anticipation of Wal-Mart but so the hotel could compete with the entire Craig job market.

"That was a direct response in that we need to do it," Thompson-Booker said. "When McDonalds starts at $9 an hour, we looked at ourselves and wanted to know how we stacked up."

The concern for her business is not as far-reaching as other industries and areas of town. Wal-Mart is not going to compete in the hotel industry, but the evidence of its effects on small towns in the Midwest is apparent, Thompson-Booker said.

"There are whole towns in the Midwest with no businesses in them because Wal-Mart came to town," she said. "I don't think that will happen here, but the fear that businesses won't find anyone to work is a very real one."

Both Daszkiewicz and Thompson-Booker think more retail choice is a great thing for shoppers in Craig. Currie agrees, and is looking forward to a future where Craig will be the kind of regional destination it was decades ago.

"Prior to Wal-Mart opening in Rifle, we would see a large population from Meeker come to Craig to shop - for groceries, to use the wave pool, to see a movie," Currie said. "We lost a lot of that market base. We really see this as an opportunity to recapture that market."

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