Survey finds marginal support of Wal-Mart Supercenter

By Thomas Wilson

STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   The votes have been submitted and the comments have been read.
   A majority of Elizabethton and Carter County citizens responding to a Star survey favor the development of a Wal-Mart Supercenter in town by a margin of 55 percent in favor.
   The Elizabethton Star asked community residents for their opinions about the development of a Wal-Mart Supercenter in Elizabethton shortly after the Elizabethton Planning Commission voted 5-2 to approve a site plan for the project's development on Feb. 4.
   A total of 256 responses were received by the Star office. Of that number, 141 respondents favored the Supercenter while 115 citizens opposed the development.
   Opponents of the development cited potential impact a Supercenter could have on local businesses.
   "My friends operate these local businesses, and as far as I know, I have no friends in Bentonville, Arkansas," read one submission opposing the Supercenter.
   Others stated the city and county needed industrial and commercial developments for local citizens to make money, not another place to spend it.
   "We do not need empty buildings," wrote an Elizabethton woman. "I am happy with the Wal-Mart we have."
   A respondent who listed his residence as Butler said, "Wal-Mart used to boast U.S.A. products, but look to find something you need made in the U.S.A."
   "Bringing a Super Wal-Mart to Elizabethton is not a quick fix to our problems," wrote another.
   Citizens favoring the Supercenter development cited reasons from more local sales tax dollars, new jobs and a new store, to lower prices, better selection of merchandise, extending a friendly hand to large corporations looking to relocate in Carter County, and the removal of the burned North American Corporation buildings.
   "We have nowhere to shop," read the letter of one respondent from Hampton. "Downtown will never make it without some big companies to draw people out."
   Ms. McCormick's English class at Hampton High School unanimously endorsed the Wal-Mart Supercenter in their responses.
   Respondents also felt a Wal-Mart Supercenter competition would force other chain and local retailers to lower their prices.
   "We need something new around here and maybe kids won't get in trouble," wrote another respondent from Hampton. "This place is so boring."
   Respondents who favored the Supercenter frequently cited lower prices and new jobs the development was expected to bring.
   "Because of Wal-Mart I have come to expect great deals, a large selection of various consumer goods, and a 30 day no hassle product return policy ..." one respondent favoring the development stated.
   Proponents also failed to see how a Supercenter would negatively impact the downtown business district.
   "People go to Johnson City to shop at Wal-Mart," wrote another respondent favoring the Supercenter. "Super stores indicate to new business, tourism, and manufacturing that this is a busy, active place where people can spend money."
   "When you live on a fixed income, it only makes good sense to shop where the prices are lower," wrote a Roan Mountain resident.