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1999-11-09
Jerseyville, IL. Surviving Wal-Mart?

The Highland, IL News Leader newspaper printed the following tale about life in small town America once Wal-Mart moves in. "Four years ago Jerseyville, IL was a thriving, county seat business center for Jersey County. It had four men's clothing stores, two women's clothing stores, an auto supply store, a hardware store, and a furniture store, among others. Then Wal-Mart decided to open a superstore, and Jerseyville's downtown changed forever. Only one men's store remains in business, along with a women's shoe store. The dime store is now a tea room and gift shop, the hardware store is now City Hall, a clothing store has become a craft and antique mall, another clothing store has become a sports bar, and the furniture store has become an antique and craft mall. Some merhcants decided to stay open and compete, and others tried to compete but closed their doors after a long struggle. Some saw the change as part of the ongoing evolution in retailing. Others are downright angry over what happened to their town's business district. Jerry Graham, former owner of Graham's Variety, said that the biggest impact on his business was when Wal-Mart first came to town. 'When they opened in 1978, they took the cream right off the top of our profits,' he said. As profits became squeezed, there wasn't much left to donate to civic groups, something Graham says his store did on a regular basis. 'We didn't have the money left to donate to the Boy and Girl Scouts. We couldn't support the community anymore,' he said. Graham said that the arrival of the Wal-Mart superstore four years ago didn't really have that much impact on his business because he had already adjusted to competing with the existing Wal-Mart. 'It really impacted on groceries and clothing,' he said. 'Our big business was in flowers, and things like that. What saved us is that we diversified. We went into picture framing, selling tropical fish, paint and wallpaper. We carried items that Wal-Mart wasn't involved in a big way. The superstore didn't have that much impact on our business. It hurt a little right at first, but it came right back,' he said. 'I closed up in 1998 after competing against them for 20 years. I got into another line which didn't take as much of my time,' he said. 'Wal-Mart didn't force us out of business, but it got to the point where it was getting harder and harder to buy merchandise. The suppliers want the big orders from the Wal-Marts', he said. 'They don't want to deal with the small, Main Street merchant anymore.' Graham is now owner of Graham's Public Stores, which offers mini-storage to the public."

What you can do: What could be more poignant than a businessman who doesn't even know when he's been driven out of business? Jerry Graham didn't compete with Wal-Mart for 20 years -- he just kept ducking to avoid them all that time. From a variety store, to tropical fish, to mini-storage: that's not competing. Here's how the story really goes: First Wal-Mart came for men's clothing stores, but because I wan't a men's clothing store, I didn't notice. Then Wal-Mart came for the department stores, but I didn't notice because I'm not a department store. Then Wal-Mart came for the variety stores. I didn't notice because I'm not a variety store. Then Wal-Mart came for the grocery stores, but I didn't notice because I'm not a grocery store. Then Wal-Mart came for the gas stations. I didn't notice because I'm not a gas station. Then Wal-Mart came for the banks, but I didn't notice, because I'm not a bank. But when Wal-Mart came for the tropical fish and wallpaper stores, that really upset me, because that's the niche I found to hide in. I tried to organize other businesses to help me stop Wal-Mart from selling tropical fish, but at that point I finally noticed: there were no other businesses left. For more Wal-Mart bedtime stories, see the next newsflash, below...










 
 
"Norman has become the guru of the anti-Wal-Mart movement" ~ 60 Minutes

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