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An outsider's perspective on the new Wal-Mart

Hi again, it’s me, the 22-year-old degree-toting outsider who moved here despite knowing nobody because I saw an opportunity in this community. You know, like the archetypical person Marion County is looking to attract.

News broke this week that the Hillsboro mystery business is a Wal-Mart. That it’s Wal-Mart as opposed to, say, Dillon’s or Love’s, is of deceptively large consequence. They may offer similar services, but Wal-Mart is what every “box store” is aiming for.

There will be a lot of opinions about the entry of a huge player into the local economy. There should be — everyone should think about what this means and how it could affect them and their community. Among those voices, given my demographic information, I figure my opinion on this might be worth something.

As an attraction, Wal-Mart will be an asset to the county.

Read that carefully. “As an attraction.” I’m setting aside actual economics or five- or 10-year prognoses. The economic effect is important; it’s what Marion County’s main concern should be.

Wal-Mart’s brand goes beyond actual economics, though. So will its impact.

When publisher Eric Meyer and I opened a dialogue about this position, the question “How far is the nearest Wal-Mart?” was a metric of what kind of place Marion was. Personally, I liked that the answer was that Wal-Mart is more than a half hour away. But my friends and family raised eyebrows.

Small business dependence is something I like about Marion. I actively enjoy never seeing a McDonald’s or a Starbucks or a Wal-Mart around here. Unfortunately, that stance is contrary to how most of my peers think.

From afar, the question “Does it have a Wal-Mart?” is of greater interest than “Is its economy lush with locally owned businesses that compete well against one another?”

It won’t be a supercenter like I’m used to — at 12,000 sq. ft., the store will be smaller than Carlson’s Grocery in Marion. Size doesn’t matter, though. The name is the name.

If Marion County wants to grow, it has to swallow a Wal-Mart eventually. And a McDonald’s. And a Starbucks. You can’t get bigger and not have big corporate chains come looking for lots. That’s having your cake and eating it, too.

The time may not be right. A lot of variables will factor in to whether local businesses go under or stay afloat. From the consumer’s end, the fear is that Wal-Mart will come in with cheap supplies and then, once the local competition has been eviscerated, the rollbacks roll away and don’t return. They even have a similar strategy with newspaper advertising, according to research.

However, Wal-Mart isn’t sneaking up on anyone. Businesses have until spring to strategize and research how other stores have survived. Consumers are aware of how this works. They can make a choice. We all can.

Marion can choose to be open-minded without rendering itself naïve. Maybe in return, more people like me will be open-minded about moving here.

— ELIOT SILL

Last modified Sept. 18, 2014

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