I have watched with interest as Swansboro, North Carolina, has debated the Walmart issue. Certainly no local business wants the competition from a Walmart or for that matter a Lowe's Home Improvement Center on their doorstep. It would be safe to say no one wants a Walmart in their backyard, but most people will admit to shopping in one occasionally.
Unfortunately Walmart and other big box stores are already here and within driving distance. I am a huge supporter of local businesses. If you read our A Week at the Beach - The Emerald Isle Travel Guide, you will find that I spend a lot of time in the book talking about local businesses that I believe provide good service to residents and visitors.
However, it is naive to think that just because a business is local that it deserves special protection from competition which might offer goods and services that are not available locally.
I am not a fan of shopping in Walmart, but a few times a year we make our way to the Walmart less than twenty miles away in Morehead City. Would I shop more in Walmart if there was one in Swansboro? I probably would go there more regularly instead of building up my Walmart shopping list for infrequent trips.
The real question is would I shop less in local shops? The answer is no. I like shopping at Waters Ace Hardware. There is nothing that I normally buy from them that I would take the time to shop for in a Walmart. I am pretty sure that no Walmart carries Sourwood Honey or the gas primer bulb that I bought for my Echo trimmer there a few days ago. I would not even think of buying my sod from a Walmart.
Would I consider buying my fishing gear from Walmart instead of Reel Outdoors in Emerald Isle? That would absolutely not happen. Reel Outdoors replaced a rod of mine that broke this summer. They are my regular stop for fishing gear and I cannot see that changing. I seriously doubt that anyone at Walmart could talk about what fish are biting along the beach.
Is there any chance that I would abandon Redfearns, S&H Home and Garden, Winberry's Produce, or Clyde Phillip's Seafood? Anyone who knows me including the business owners, would not even bother asking the question. I like dealing with those folks and I also enjoy the Ace Hardware on the Island and Emerald Isle Books and Toys. We also do a lot of our grocery shopping at the Piggly-Wiggly. No Walmart grocery store is going to change that. My car is going to continue to get serviced at Cedar Point Tire and I seriously doubt I would trade a few dollars savings on some tires for the great service and feeling of trust that I get from the guys at Cedar Point Tire.
However, having said that, there are things that I might buy at a Walmart. If I wanted to buy some dishes to match our Corelle plates, I would have to head to a Walmart. I might like some competition for the vitamins and supplements that I get from Walgreens. If I wanted a reasonably priced memory card for my camera, and if a Walmart store were nearby, I might check Walmart before ordering one from Amazon. If we wanted some sheets for a guest bed we might check Walmart if there was one here. It would save us a trip to Belk's in Morehead City or Penny's in Jacksonville. Would I look for movies or music in a Walmart? It is unlikely. We now use Netflix and Amazon for those items already. Would we buy some fruit or vegetables in Walmart in the middle of winter if they looked better than what we could find at Piggly-Wiggly, Lowes, or Food Lion? We might, but we occasionally shop the fruits and vegetables in the Morehead City and Jacksonville Walmarts already. I doubt that I would make a special trip even to a Swansboro Walmart for few vegetables. We like where we shop for our groceries now and are unlikely to change.
There are already local businesses that I have stopped using. It is not because a Walmart is coming to town but because the poor service that they deliver is something that I choose to avoid. You can read about my bad experience with the local Toro dealer here or another unfortunate problem with a tire dealer in town here. Neither case is a complete indictment of the local guys, but it is enough for me to take my business someplace else. I also do not eat at every restaurant in town. There are some where I find the food and service not worth the price.
My point is that I think Swansboro's Walmart decision just feeds the dellusion that you can protect a town's character by preventing a Walmart from coming to town. I heard the same complaints many years ago when Mount Airy, North Carolina, got its first Walmart. Not much has changed in Mount Airy since the Walmart came except that it was so successful that they had to build a bigger one and people no longer have to drive to Winston-Salem to get some things that you could not find in Mount Airy. I cannot think of a favorite local business that disappeared because of Walmart coming to town.
I once lived in a completely planned city which decided that car dealerships were too messy for the town. They also controlled how many grocery stores and gas stations were around. What we mostly got from that was poorer service and higher prices. The good businesses in Swansboro will survive whether or not Walmart ever comes to town. The bad ones will continue fleecing customers for the foreseeable future. Keeping Walmart out of town will neither hasten nor slow their exit from business.
In the end Swansboro will be deprived of the tax revenue that a Walmart would generate. People will continue driving to Walmart in Jacksonville or Morehead City to find things that they cannot find or choose not to buy in Swansboro. Some businesses who already have a weak hold on their customers might get a little protection that keeps them in business a little longer, but in the end Swansboro will find out that you cannot wall off your village from the modern world.
I am no fan of the Walmart business model, but Walmart is a reality that is not going away until people stop shopping there. Still I hate to see people who cannot safely drive longer distances deprived of the opportunity to shop at a local Walmart where they might save a few dollars. Having a Walmart in Swansboro might have attracted a few more residents to the town, but that does not seem to interest the town. In truth tourists seem to interest them more.
Anyone who visits Swansboro and walks down main street can figure out that it is no longer a fishing village. Swansboro's main street is dedicated to tourists and the town just built a dock to attract transient boaters or what might be called tourists in boats. Swansboro is a great little town and has done a lot of nice things with its parks recently. I talk extensively about what a great place Swansboro is in my book and that has not changed. I am happy to see Swansboro thinking hard about retaining the town's character, but I am not sure pushing Walmart a few miles farther afield is the way to do it.
However, my mailing address of Swansboro does not make me a Swansboro resident, I actually live in Carteret County so it is their decision. I am going to assume the folks in Swansboro are happy with this turn of events so it is what it is and I hope they get better results than I expect.