What Are We Saying No To?

How my hometown dealt with a Wal-Mart moving in, a little insight from my old high school history teacher (who's also still on the Common Council) and a few questions I'd love to see pondered in public discussions.

I don’t claim to have all of the answers about Wal-Mart’s project, but I can tell you about how Wal-Mart impacted my hometown.

About 20 years ago, Wal-Mart planted its boxy-blue presence on Burbank Road in Wooster, Ohio near the Mystic Meadows horse farm.

At the time, the people living in the county produced everything: milk and trucks, paintbrushes and plastic containers, steel and oil, brakes and titanium gadgets. And up until 2009, we had Freedlanders, the oldest department store in the country, in our downtown.

The day Wal-Mart opened in the summer of 1992 was admittedly bittersweet for my family.

I often drove an extra mile or two to my south side destinations to see the morning fog burning off the pasture to catch a glimpse of a horse galloping along the fence line. The land gently sloped. The horses were spectacular. Still, they disappeared, and the fences, barn and farmhouse were demolished.

At the time, I didn’t feel sad though.

My family anxiously waited for the Wal-Mart to come in because at the time, hundreds of family farms had been auctioned off and many of those families struggled to find work. We knew we wouldn’t need to go downtown much if the super-center opened. But that was OK and it really didn’t seem to matter to us that the overpriced department store closed. We wanted cheap stuff because we didn’t have a lot of money. And we wanted to work.

So the Wal-Mart, complete with a hitching post for the Amish to tether their horses to, opened just before I left Ohio to move to Wisconsin in 1992. Most of the farmers’ wives went to work at Wal-Mart. And although my parents still live on the farm, they sold most of the animals a few years after I left and my mom worked there for a few years.

And then Applebee’s, Tumbleweed, Blockbuster, Loews, Best Buy, the Cleveland Clinic, Wayne Savings and Loan, JC Penny, Elder-Beermann, Bob Evans restaurant, Hampton Inn, Wendy’s, McDonalds, Fashion Bug, Hallmark, a Cinemark 10-screen movie theater, and a host of other boxy retailers came. The retail district was tightly consolidated into an area about the size of four city-sized blocks. The condos and bigger houses cropped up around the area. And people were employed, but many were just scraping by.

And many people were happy to have a job at these places.

Then, Freedlanders and a number of downtown businesses closed. Some new commercial businesses started up, but only after the city gave substantial tax breaks to viable businesses to plant their commercial presence in Wooster.

My old high school history teacher, Jon Ulbright, who I would characterize as a skeptical Democrat, was on the Common Council when the Wal-Mart deal went through and he still has a seat on the Council. He voted against the Wal-Mart for a number of reasons, only to be outvoted. Today, he maintains the decision made by his colleagues, who were on the Common Council at the time, was the wrong one.

The argument to allow Wal-Mart to come in was rooted in the belief that the City needed economic development to survive, but in Ulbright’s eyes the City didn’t factor in several costs including roads and lights, and city planners failed to understand the long-term impact of future services that would be needed to support a business district.

“People tell me that Democrats are anti-business, but I’m not anti-business. I was and still am against growing beyond our means and big box stores,” he said. “I was taught that if you can’t take care of what you have, you don’t take on anymore.”

At the time, the City annexed and rezoned the property for the commercial retail district. Now, the Police Chief in Wooster is asking for a fifth zone of coverage to cover the annexed land and the fire chief says they need a new fire station in the area because of the increased population.

“And we just don’t have the money,” he said during an interview.

Plus, Ulbright says the community lost what he calls “mom and pop” retailers like Freedlanders and those farms.

“I’m a downtown person,” Ulbright said. “I have no use for Wal-Mart…. If I could undo all of that development and restore the farmland, I would.”

Also, Stanley Gault, the CEO of Rubbermaid and ultimately Goodyear Tire, was good friends with a board member of Wal-Mart, at the time and the new Wal-Mart was supposed to be one of the most beautiful in the country, Ulbright said.

“What we got was a Super Wal-Mart, but it’s nothing special,” Ulbright said.

As I said earlier, I don’t have all of the answers about Wal-Mart. My point in bringing all of this up is to help promote discussion, not my opinion.

Ulbright raises some important issues that Caledonia officials might consider when making the decision on whether to move forward with the project, no matter where it’s located. Economic growth isn’t just about increasing revenue for the Village or even providing jobs; it’s about meeting the needs of the community as a whole. Still, development needs to be sustainable long-term, mindful of the environment, and good for the people who live in the region.

On the other hand, we cannot as a community ignore that the tax revenue generated by the development would be going to Racine Unified, the Village, Gateway, the County and the State and that it would be a continuous revenue stream for years. The Village is loosing some state funds, but the school district stands to lose $25 million. Gateway Technical's enrollment is at an historic high and those are people who are trying to better themselves. The Village may have 3.8 percent unemployment, but we also need to be mindful of the severe impact of the economy on Racine, which has 14 percent of its population out of work. To ignore our neighbors needs, I believe, makes us bad neighbors.

But the bottom line questions that need to be answered are: what are all of the benefits and what are all of the costs to this project? Are we as a community willing to accept the consequences if we do allow this project to move forward and if we don't allow it, can we accept what we are saying no to?

JW March 29, 2011 at 11:00 PM
Good and interesting discussion only I am not sure 20 years ago really can be compared to today to conclude good or bad. I personally think much of the changes came from the span of years more than the Walmart. Big companies in general and internet sales and all that changed the game as well to where the small local business is at a huge disadvantage for many reasons. I think even companies like Best Buy are now feeling the pressure of trying to compete with Amazon. I don't buy hardly anything from Best Buy anymore and I used to shop there weekly. I also know plenty of cities without a Walmart, that have either a Shopko or Kmart as their main local store and have had the same problems over time. Its simple business and consumer evolution. Chains can take advantage of economies of scale and such to lower prices and have a more standardized product. Some of that is good, some bad. I may love a local restaurant more than a McDonalds or an Applebees... but with Applebees I know what I will get anywhere. I come to crave the things I like anywhere. With Burger King or Taco Bell, its not my favorite food out there, but it is good for the occasional convenience, speed, and low cost meals. Everything has its place. Times change... and I believe that accounts for more change in any community than a Walmart. Walmart makes a big and easy target. In some cases, Walmart may have brought changes earlier than they would have come otherwise, but the changes were coming.
JW March 29, 2011 at 11:03 PM
.... I think most of the stores that werent going to survive the Internet or the big boxed store waves of the past have long already been gone by now and Walmart is not likely to hurt most of the ones that remain because most that are left are service oriented. Most of us that want the things Walmart will provide already go to Walmart or Target farther away. This just gives us a closer option. Pick N Save and Kmart might feel a hit, but consumers should win if there are some pricing battles. Our Pick N Save, to me, seems overpriced on some items... this might get them to adjust them downward.
Sandy March 30, 2011 at 02:36 PM
JW I think you are thinking that this fight is ONLY about Wal-Mart coming in...it's not. It is about ANY business coming to this corner and any other places in Caledonia that are zoned residential or rural that do not NEED to be there. I have no problem shopping or eating at any of those places you mentioned but it doesn't mean they NEED to be closer to me. I also don't need my road widened, sewer and water brought it and big heavy trucks overpopulating it. Needs and wants are very different things and knowing the difference will only make us stronger as a community. It may be a need if we did not have a Target, Wal-Mart or Kmart between Milwaukee and Kenosha, but we do and so much more. Just because some do not want to drive the 15 minutes to get there doesn't make it a need. A need is a necessary duty or obligation. Putting a business like this in a residential area just for convenience purposes is a want thinly veiled with a needy look.
Sandy March 30, 2011 at 03:27 PM
When you start changing the established residential areas where people own their homes and pay taxes every year, you are changing much more than just the landscape. Taxes, insurance, curb appeal, traffic patterns, road conditions, environment and more are greatly affected. Granted, these people may not pay nearly what a large business would but when you force other businesses to close in that area because of your one business, how much are you really gaining? Taxes going out are just as important as what is coming in, making what looks like an even trade is not economically wise. Not only does this new business affect the tax base but how many jobs will be lost? Once the new business is established with their workforce and the other businesses close where do they look for a job? This isn't creating jobs, it's swapping jobs, just like swapping the taxes. This kind of change leaves us with empty and ugly areas in our community that are not bringing in the taxes, creating more jobs or making Caledonia very beautiful. The impacts are far reaching and should not be looked at as just a short term of "I don't want to drive as far" or "my teenager needs a job".
Patrick Flynn March 30, 2011 at 03:35 PM
Keep it rural.... http://www.caledoniawi.org
Greta Mueller March 30, 2011 at 04:03 PM
Sandy -then I'm assuming you'll be fighting any proposed development at the freeway since that is all zoned residential and agricultural?
Chris March 30, 2011 at 04:33 PM
I would be opposed to the development of the freeway as well. I commute to downtown milwaukee from 4mile and 31. I have no problem getting to the expressway or taking back roads into work. It is a choice I made moving to the area. I find it peaceful and relaxing taking the country roads to and from the expressway each day. There are many towns that don't have freeway access and are not fighting for it. I don't think caledonia should either.
Chris March 30, 2011 at 04:33 PM
Regarding the location of walmart.. it is a bad idea for it there. Elseware in Caledonia would be fine.. with it right there it would bring down the values of all the surrounding houses excluding the ones that would be bought out to put a long john silvers in and a gas station... the taxes would not go down because walmart would only be bringing 26% of the taxes back to caledonia after the state and county get a hold of it... we would have to pay for all the roads to be repaired more often, more street lights, more stop lights, widening, constant construction, loss of wildlife, light polution, polution into our preserved lands, lack of police, lack of fire and safety... so what would this mean..all of our taxes going up..not down.. doesn't matter if it is in your backyard or 10 miles away..every one would be effected by it. The jobs that everyone is so happy about is a pipe dream.. all of the people that would be unemployed from small businesses closing would also be looking for jobs, walmart would not be able to hire everyone. if the 12.85 is the average for a full time employee, it is scary to think what a manager would be making there and what the lowest would be. just remember they over charge for the benefits there as well and tell people to get on welfare. So people working there would be looking for 2nd jobs which then would put more of a strain on unemployed.
Sandy March 30, 2011 at 04:35 PM
IMO those immediate areas by the exits and on frontage roads should be zoned commercial. We did fight and won when the casino wanted to come in there, not because it was a business but because the long term affects with crime and questionable tax revenue were going to be too negative. Some did not want it because they didn't want the light pollution in their back yard. If you live within a quarter mile of I-94 and Hwy K you have to be prepared for commercial properties. That area already has businesses established and has vacant areas where businesses were and are zoned appropriately. The problem the village sees with that area is there is no sewer/water there like Hwy 20 and they deem it too costly to put it in so they've dragged their feet on that project. Those areas can and should be built on again and additional ones added along the frontage roads and Hwy K . I do see the land owners by the frontage road have for sale signs up so there is space available. You have a similar situation at I-94 and 7 Mile Road. Putting in business along I-94 also aids the people on the west side of I-94 to benefit. There are commercial areas that are available in Caledonia so, as the saying goes, if you build it - they will come! Let the companies that want to come here adapt to our plan if they believe this is an area that needs what they are selling.
Chris March 30, 2011 at 04:37 PM
If you can't afford to drive 10 miles to go shopping then you shouldn't be shopping or you shouldn't live in a place where you need to travel for goods. If you want to be green, well then get someone else who doesn't want to drive that far because of gas prices or its not in their backyard and carpool. Make some friends while you car pool. Because if you don't like to travel more than 5 miles for anything, the chance is you are very isolated and need some sort exposure to the world. And the excuse of well 24 hours is convienient..if you need to get something at 2am well then you were unprepared and you need to have better time management or be more task orientated.
Sandy March 30, 2011 at 06:07 PM
So based on what Wal-Mart says about their run off being as clear as drinking water...does Wal-Mart bottle that water and sell it? Do they pump it back into their drinking fountains? Do they have ponds to collect it that are teeming with fish and wildlife? Until that can happen, I don't believe them.
David Drake March 31, 2011 at 12:15 AM
Sandy, I was the person proposing that I-94 location yesterday. However the $50-65 million price tag for sewer build-out (per Greta) lowers my appetite for such development. We'd never recapture the investment without turning Caledonia's Frontage Road into Gurnee, IL.
Sandy March 31, 2011 at 12:56 AM
David - I believe that was why they shelved the idea after the casino deal fell through. I see the proposed sewer route on another thread here and it is very odd...not sure why it looks like it does winding through ag land instead of sticking to the straight main roads. Hwy 20 has some development and more in the making. It doesn't look bad and is mostly industrial so a lot have built there. There is not much that we don't have between Hwy 100 and 20 so I don't think it would get to be a Gurnee, IL. We must not be that appealing anyway since it looks like all we can get there are casinos and asphalt plants!
Greta Mueller March 31, 2011 at 01:18 AM
Sandy, we didn't win with the casino - I was part of that group - we lucked out. The tribe was using us as a bargaining chip for where they really wanted the casino - Shullsburg. If they'd really wanted it here, there's nothing we, as citizens, could have done to stop it because our entire town board was ready to push it through. When the tribe realized it would cost $15 mill (11 years ago)to get sewer just to K and the I, when they thought their investment would be about 3 mill, they lost interest in us overnight. I don't disagree about the freeway, I wanted to make a point. I just came back from a rezoning public hearing to allow a 24/7 rucking terminal basically right next to a high end residential area off the freeway where zoning is ag/residential and that's all that's there right now. These people know that commercial development is inevitable, but were promised more high-end development. They had no say in their neighborhood planning - it was done by SEWRPC who basically told them, this is it, deal with it. So now. it's ram through whatever they can get because there's STILL no plan, or political will, to get that sewer and water to the freeway. So my question is, if this is o.k. for the residents in agricultural areas near the freeway, why not those that live on a state highway where infrastructure already exists?
Sandy March 31, 2011 at 02:09 AM
Greta - I thought we had a referendum with that casino and it was voted down...I could be wrong. I do agree with you though - our board seems to always be going in the wrong direction. They make rash decisions without carefully thinking it through or getting input from the very people who live where they are making decisions. Wait...who does that sound like...hmmmmmm oh yeah, RUSD!!
Sandy March 31, 2011 at 02:11 AM
The biggest reasons for not putting it where they are proposing is the impact it will have on the root river, conservancy and horse trails. The village will also be responsible for the reroadwork that will have to be done down 4 Mile Road since the trucks will use that to get their goods to the Wal-Mart. That will be a pretty penny. There are other places that sit vacant along 32 that would have little to no impact on those things.
rudi wendt May 02, 2011 at 03:22 PM
sandy,sandy,sandy,please,please,please leave hwy.32 out of this.I live on hwy32,across the WE plant.It was a quiet area between 7 mile rd. and county line rd. until the invasion of the WE people.You would think with all the money they are making they could afford to buy quiet exhaust.Or maybe some people do not have what others have (quiet nieghbor hood),and want to take yours away.Caledonia landfill,(which is nothing but a big ash tray),was put right in front of our house is nothing more then a BIG EYE SORE and something to bounce all the noisey loud exhaust back towards our house.Putting Wal-mart by 4mile rd. would be a rude awakening,as I have been awakened up rudely for over 3 years and counting.I am still on perscription pills because of the expansion.South Milw.,Oak Creek get a nice qiuet park,and we get a DIRTY ,NOISEY,INDUSTRIAL PARK.NOTE:I am still looking for a lawyer for all the HARASSMENT.
Sandy May 03, 2011 at 04:07 AM
Rudi- when I mention Hwy 32 I am certainly not talking about any locations North of Hwy G. I am referring to some of the vacant land that is around the 3 and 4 Mile Road areas that are empty buildings or vacant lots where business used to be and are now eyesores. Those areas are high traffic and have little to no direct residential impact because they have been there for awhile. As for WE, I agree with you on them invading that area. It's another case of big money talks but with all their money they are sucking from the people, there should be a way to bring the impact of the WE properties down to a dull roar and give you back your peace and quiet.
rudi wendt May 20, 2011 at 02:48 PM
sandy,sorry it took so long to respond.I did not mean to jump on you,sorry.As for Caledonian nieghbors GOOD LUCK!DO NOT LET THEM OPEN THE GATES TO HELL! I living across from WE,have trouble sleeping at night because of traffic noise(loud exhaust!!)NOISEY traffic starting at 4:45am.Again at 5:30am to 8:30am.Then 2:00pm to 8:30pm,then 10:00pm to 12:00am. or at times 2:00am.Then it starts all over again,just so the rich can get richer.If anyone thinks they care about you,think again.Nobody in their right mind would want a ASH HILL IN FRONT OF THEIR HOUSE,OR A NOISEY DRIVEWAY!!Thanks Caledonia,WE,and the DOT!!!HOW MUCH DID THEY PAY YOU?!!!
rudi wendt May 20, 2011 at 04:41 PM
By the way,does anybody know what the noise laws are in caledonia?I remember in my younger years police giving warning tickets to people who had either bad or loud exhaust.What happened to that law?Or maybe WE people are exempt from that law.NOISEOFF has some interesting reading,the health concerns are pretty much on target with me.I am not done with WE.Still looking for a lawyer,or maybe I will write a book about my experiences.I have over three years of documents plus about 20 videos of proof of WE people harrassing this household.Take a ride to Elm street and check out how far WE put that hill,on a qiuet less traveled road.Their is so much more traffic and noise then there was just 2 and half years ago.You can not tell me that WE had no clue.WE owns so much property they could of put ,and could still move that hill farther back.And the driveway did not have to be in front of our house.So if you think they care about you,think again.They started a war with us for no reason.
KEEP ON KEEPING ON May 14, 2013 at 03:16 PM
And then Applebee’s, Tumbleweed, Blockbuster, Loews, Best Buy, the Cleveland Clinic, Wayne Savings and Loan, JC Penny, Elder-Beermann, Bob Evans restaurant, Hampton Inn, Wendy’s, McDonalds, Fashion Bug, Hallmark, a Cinemark 10-screen movie theater, and a host of other boxy retailers came. The retail district was tightly consolidated into an area about the size of four city-sized blocks. The condos and bigger houses cropped up around the area. And people were employed, but many were just scraping by. ***No other commercial can be attracted to the location in Caledonia. # possible outlots may not bring more-just look at the vacant ones 4 yrs running at the Somers WM. Were these jobs family-sustaining?*** ***is Wooster 7-15 minutes away from surrounding retail options, like Franklin, Oak Creek, Mount Pleasant, Racine? Then, Freedlanders and a number of downtown businesses closed. Some new commercial businesses started up, but only after the city gave substantial tax breaks to viable businesses to plant their commercial presence in Wooster ***tax breaks..Was the WM a tax boom?** The argument to allow Walmart to come in was rooted in the belief that the City needed economic development to survive, but in Ulbright’s eyes the City didn’t factor in several costs including roads and lights, and city planners failed to understand the long-term impact of future services that would be needed to support a business district. ***Ahh,..sounds familiar.
KEEP ON KEEPING ON May 14, 2013 at 03:28 PM
This story could be repeated over and over in thousands of towns. I frequent a gym over on Rapids drive in the Pick N Save complex. The lot is Empty 80% of the time. A good neighbor would tell WM to build in a commercially based area in N Racine, to service the high unemployment there, conveniently near their homes, schools, on a bus route. Revitalize a failing, aging area. Caledonia cannot subsidize Racine. If Walmart were entertaining a commercial area that had the potential for larger growth, current infrastructure, that would be a different story. They are shoe-horning in a supercenter that will require traffic influx from a larger area. Along MM, Northwestern, Rapids, N Green Bay. Forever change that area. Demand widening of roads. Turn the neighborhood into a major through-way. Take front yards. For 1 store and the promise of outlots. Not even a business "district". The article mentioned annexed land. Can I presume this was on the outskirts of town? Not plunked in the middle of it? How many homes in the surrounding area?
Laurie Giese May 14, 2013 at 05:00 PM


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