A new Ithaca Walmart “Supercenter” opened on Fairground Memorial Parkway on Wednesday, creating 135 new job openings. The store is an expanded version of the old Walmart that opened in 2005 but incorporates a new addition that includes a grocery department.
Local officials hailed the opening as a source of increased job opportunities and tax revenue for the area.
Phyllisa DeSarno, Ithaca’s economic development deputy director, admitted that while she personally prefers not to shop at Walmart, it has given the local economy a boost.
“I’m not a fan of big box stores, but it definitely helps in terms of tax dollars,” she said.
DeSarno also noted that a retail giant such as Walmart brings people from all over the area to shop in Ithaca, leading to opportunities for more business throughout the city.
“It brings people into town who might not come here otherwise,” she said. “Once they’re here, they may stop for lunch, they may go downtown and shop at other stores.”
Ithaca City Controller Steve Thayer said he thought the opening of the expanded store would not necessarily hurt local businesses, as some critics contend, though it will bring more price competition to the area.
“There aren’t too many mom-and-pop grocery stores in the area,” he said, adding that the addition of a grocery component to Ithaca’s Walmart will more likely lead to competition with larger stores like Wegman’s, which in turn will lead to lower overall prices Ithaca’s Walmart will more likely lead to competition with larger stores like Wegman’s, which in turn will lead to lower overall prices for shoppers.
Thayer stressed the positive economic impact Walmart has already had in terms of revenue from sales tax, noting that the overall Ithaca economy has begun to improve after a “depressing 2009” and attributing some of this recovery to the relatively new stores in the area, such as Walmart.
Although Ithacans concerned about poor employee treatment, urban sprawl and other aspects of the mammoth discount chain rebuffed overtures from the company in 1994, the city finally allowed the construction of a Walmart in 2005. The current expansion of the Walmart met no significant protest, and Walmart representatives made efforts to portray the store — often criticized as a scourge to small local business — as nonthreatening and a boon to the community.
“We have a loyal customer base and some have been shopping here since our original opening,” said store manager Bobby Hazard. The store also touted environmentally friendly features like LED lighting and low-flow toilets.
As for competition with local businesses, DeSarno said the future is ambiguous, though she did not foresee disaster for such stores. She also noted that a new locally run grocery, called “Neighborhood Pride” will be opening in Ithaca’s Northside neighborhood early this year. The interaction between local stores and Walmart remains to be seen.
“It’s going to be interesting to see how these additions to the local economy will work out,” she said.
Original Author: Eliza LaJoie