Large machines aid workers in constructing a Walmart store in Sylvester. (Staff Photo: Brad McEwen)
ALBANY — Retail giant Walmart is slated to open in Worth County later this year, bringing with it the potential for new jobs and increased revenue for the county. It also brings concerns for the future to some local business owners.
Construction is underway on the estimated 75,000-square-foot store, located on U.S. Highway 82 in the Worth County Industrial Park on the eastern border of the city, with hopes that the store will open in May.
Once open, the Sylvester Walmart looks to employ 75 to 100 people, as well as generate an estimated $100,000 in ad valorem and inventory taxes, things that could have a significant impact on the community.
According to Sylvester-Worth County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Karen Rackley, 65 percent of Sylvester’s residents work out of town, meaning they do a lot of their spending out of town as well, something which leaders hope will change once Walmart opens its doors locally.
“A considerable number of us work out of town,” Rackley said. “They’re here in the morning and back here in the evening. To make things easier, a lot of people do their shopping after work before they come home. We want to keep their shopping dollars at home.”
While the increase in jobs and tax revenue are definitely a plus, Rackley understands there are some in the community who aren’t thrilled to see the retail giant come to town. Many have expressed concerns about the impact Walmart will have on smaller, locally owned businesses.
“It’s scaring a lot of people and they have a right to be concerned,” Rackley said. “There are some drawbacks, but lots of positives. It’s all in how you look at it.”
Rackley said the Chamber is encouraging people to continue their normal shopping habits and patterns and to continue to patronize local businesses that have served them in the past. Rackley points to the organization’s efforts to promote local local shopping through its Stop N Shop program, which encourages Chamber members to do business with each other and the community to think about local vendors before choosing to shop out of town.
“Hometown value does not go away,” said Rackley. “I would encourage anybody to shop the way they’re shopping cause ‘We’re Worth It.’”
While Rackley sees the arrival of Walmart as mostly positive, there are some in the community that have been vocal about their opposition to the retailer locating in Worth County.
Jackie Clayton, co-owner of Cindy’s Flower and Gift Shop, and lifelong resident of Sylvester, feels that regardless of what leaders say, she thinks Walmart’s presence will hurt smaller retailers.
“I was so upset about the whole deal when it first came out,” Clayton said. “My concern is for other businesses in this community. These little mom and pops are going to feel it. It’s just a case of the pie’s only so big. The local businesses are going to suffer.
Clayton said she feels because her store is a specialty store that does things Walmart doesn’t that her business won’t be impacted as much as some.
“We’ll survive because it’s service we offer,” said Clayton. “They don’t do arrangements, they don’t deliver.”
Irvin Hatcher, owner of Worth Hardware, agrees, saying that Walmart’s presence will hurt many businesses, including his.
“I hate to see them come,” said Hatcher. “It’s really going to hurt. People don’t trade with the local merchants.”
Much like Clayton, however, Hatcher feels he can offer expertise and a level of service the large retailer can’t provide.
“I have a lot of customers that come in that don’t know how to do plumbing or electrical, so I lead them through it,” said Hatcher. “I don’t think (Walmart) will have anybody there to do that.”
Despite the concerns of some, Walmart is moving forward and has begun taking applications for people interested in working for the company.
Currently the company is occupying a store front in downtown Sylvester where it conducts the application and hiring process.
According to Jennifer Calhoun, the store manager, the company will be hiring both full and part time associates and will accept applications at the 114 North Main St. location from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to noon on Saturday.
Once hiring is complete, associates are set to begin work in April to prepare for the store’s grand opening.