Do we need another Walmart?

May 17, 2014 

People all over the country have tried to keep Walmart out of their neighborhoods, but last week — with Election Day looming — we threw a party and welcomed another Big Box to town.

One day after challenger Colin Martin let the news out of the bag, Mayor Teresa Tomlinson grabbed the microphone and announced that Wally World will build a supercenter at the former site of Baker High School.

Just what we need. Another place to buy skim milk at 3 in the morning. But by the impressive turnout of politicians at the announcement you would have thought we had landed a high-tech outfit from Silicon Valley.

I get it. South Columbus has been yearning for a major retailer for years and 300 new jobs is always helpful. But there's more to this story.

Ten years ago, people in another part of town tried to block a new Walmart. When their fight against what became the Gateway store made it to Columbus Council, company officials promised representatives of the south side that someday they would get one.

It's finally coming but not everyone is overjoyed, starting with often-sensitive graduates of Baker High, whose school closed its doors in 1991. Alumni like Ismael "Ish" Nazario feel like someone hit them in the gut.

"We had been hearing that Walmart was coming for two years, but we hoped it was just a rumor. That's a historical site. It deserves more than a Walmart. We're hurt and disappointed," he said.

Nazario also questions the timing. Five days before Tuesday's simmering mayoral election, rumors were confirmed. "It's like they're saying: Look what we did, just before Election Day."

The area near Victory Drive needs a boost, but do we need another Walmart? We already have five stores in Columbus and Phenix City, not counting Sam's Club. Another one will likely put the Buena Vista Road location in jeopardy.

But beyond the numbers are raw emotions. Baker High folks are sad. It stings that a soulless store will be built where they made so many memories. Joni Mitchell summed up their feelings in song:

Don't it always seem to go

That you don't know what you've got

Till it's gone

They paved paradise

And put up a parking lot.

Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Reach him at hyatt31906@knology.net

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