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2008-10-23
Walkerton, IN. Small Town Suffers A Death In The Family

Walkerton, Indiana (population 2,200) is a very small community whose population hasn't changed much in the past twenty years. The town says it offers "opportunities for working and living in a gracious small town setting." Walkerton is located where four counties meet, and describes its central position, and "ready access to many cities" as providing "distinct industrial and commercial advantages in a pleasant rural setting." The town is 84 miles south east of Chicago, and 20 miles from South Bend. Walkerton claims to have "an active commercial base, with over 100 retail and services companies serving the local area." Over 30 of those businesses can be found in downtown Walkerton, "where you can visit our historic 19th century buildings in a relaxed, unhurried atmosphere." But last week, Walkerton's retail base lost one of its more prominent members -- as Kenny and Carl's Super Valu grocery store held its liquidation sale. No one bought the business out -- it just died. Acording to the South Bend Tribune, Kenny and Carl's closed down after 65 years in Walkerton. There are nine Wal-Mart superstores within 31 miles of Walkerton, the closest being in Plymouth, Indiana 11 miles away. In fact, when Wal-Mart built their superstore in Michigan City 25 miles northwest of Walkerton, they shut down the 'old' Wal-Mart and its now sitting empty on the market. But now, Walkerton too is losing a store -- the only local, family-owned grocery store in the community. For many people, the closing of Kenny and Carl's store is like a death in the family. In fact, owner Carl Vermilyer told The Tribune that customers who shop at his store are more like family. In early October, Vermilyer gathered with his family, and made the decision to shut down the store, which has been open since Franklin Delano Roosevelt was President. "We've done our best, we put our best foot forward," Vermilyer told the newspaper. "We turned this store over to God from the day I bought it." The small grocer made it clear what drove his store under. "The Super-centers, the big stores, drawing the business from this town out is what's caused this. It's just one thing after another after another," Vermilyer said. One of his loyal customers was asked by the Tribune what his choices would be now that Kenny and Carl's was closed. "My options will not be Wal-Mart," the customer said. "It would have to be another community owned grocery store." The sign over the store's entrance, "Your Home Town Store," will soon be taken down. "It's horrible," Vermilyer noted. "Not only are they my customers, but they're my friends."


What you can do: As of October 13th, Kenny and Carl's is gone, and so are the 29 local jobs that went with the store. There were hugs and tears as shoppers and store workers said goodbye to one another on a WSBT news clip of the closing. Vermilyer did not close without a warning for local residents. "If we don't concentrate on shopping locally, this store will have more businesses to follow," Vermilyer said. This is just one more small story about the impacts of a large corporation. Readers are urged to email the President of the Walkerton, Indiana Town Council, Karol Jackson, at: karol.Jackson@walkerton.org, with the following message: "Dear President Jackson, Walkerton promotes itself as a 'gracious small town' with a distinctive quality of life. A piece of that quality was lost this month with the closure of Kenny and Carl's Super Valu. One study has shown that for every Wal-Mart supercenter that opens, two local grocery stores in the area will close. It's time for leaders in Walkerton and Saint Joseph's county to get together and talk about how to prevent the loss of downtown commerce, including such measures as placing a cap on the size of retail buildings, requiring developers to post a bond for any store they leave empty, and creating incentives for the location of new retail in your traditional downtown areas, and prohibiting big box stores on land at the edge of towns. If nothing is learned from Kenny and Carl's, then Walkerton will continue to be a victim of national chain stores. Mr. Vermilyer has correctly warned, 'If we don't concentrate on shopping locally, this store will have more businesses to follow.' That's going to hurt your community economically for years to come. Use the Super Valu closure to open up a new discussion on how to manage growth -- instead of being managed by the big corporations. The county needs to be part of that dialogue."










 
 
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