Mayor Lee A. Celske describes Aledo, Illinois as “a quiet, friendly and safe rural community of 3,620 people that is a wonderful place to live and raise a family.” Located in western Illinois, Aledo is 35 minutes south of the “quad cities” of Rock Island, Moline, Davenport, and Bettendorf. The city has had a Wal-Mart discount store on SE 5th Street for 23 years, but the nearest supercenters are 23 miles away in Muscatine, Iowa, and 24 miles in Moline. Roughly a year ago, Wal-Mart announced that it was going to expand its Aledo store into a supercenter. But this week, Quad Cities Online reports that Wal-Mart has suspended its expansion plans. This sudden announcement is one of about 130 supercenter projects nationwide that Wal-Mart has decided to forego. The company said it was going to build a 99,000 s.f. building to replace its 40,000 s.f. discount store, which opened in 1985. A Wal-Mart spokesman told Quad Cities that the retailer was cutting back its new superstore projects from 300 to 170. “The Aledo project was one of those projects,” he said. Instead, Wal-Mart is reinvesting in its existing stores to get a better return for the company’s shareholders, the spokesman said. Aledo’s administrator admitted to the media that he had been informed verbally that Wal-Mart will not be building a new store in the community. “It is disappointing to receive this news, as the future Wal-Mart represented a tremendous economic opportunity for Aledo and the region,” the Administrator said. “There was nothing about the site, the Aledo community, or its officials that caused Wal-Mart to change its mind. It was a business decision in response to a poor economy. It is ironic that Wal-Mart should choose to concentrate on urban stores when its origins and success have been built upon rural areas. We wish Wal-Mart continued success and invite them to re-evaluate their decision. Aledo has much to offer.” But one downtown businessman, Dick Maynard, who owns downtown buildings, said that Wal-Mart’s decision makes sense, noting that Aledo is a small community in a sparsely populated county. “Somebody’s got to be buying this stuff,” he said. “I think we’re just too small to afford a supercenter. I think probably that’s just a good management decision by Wal-Mart’s management. I don’t know why anybody wouldn’t understand that.” The local grocery store owner, Jim Morrison, of Morrison’s Market in nearby Viola, told Quad Cities Online he was “surprised and happy” at the news. “I think it’s good for the whole county because now smaller businesses can grow and improve on themselves instead of just dying out,” he said.
The Mayor of Aledo should be encouraged by this cancellation. In his welcome message, Mayor Celske says “Aledo has worked hard to earn the State of Illinois’ designation as a ‘Premier’ Main Street Community with it’s revitalized downtown area that offers a taste of days gone by.” If the Mayor wants to avoid having a downtown that has ‘gone by,” he needs to sit down with the city’s Administrator and let him know that Wal-Mart is not a “tremendous economic opportunity.” Area merchants were relieved to hear this project is most likely dead. A Wal-Mart supercenter in a community with fewer than 4,000 people makes no sense at all. Aledo completed a Vision and Strategic Plan in August of 2006 which touted its “historic downtown shopping experiences.” Readers are urged to contact Aledo Mayor Lee Celeske by going to the city’s website at http://www.aledo-il.org/, and sending him the following message: “Mr. Mayor, you should be pleased that your city has dodged a Wal-Mart expansion. For a community that brags of its ‘historic downtown shopping’ and its premier Main Street. Aledo should be looking for ways to expand its locally-owned businesses, not opening the doors to bigger and bigger national chain stores. In your Vision Plan, under retail objectives, you mention the need to “Help (the) community understand the impact of retail development.” You can start with your city Administrator, who does not realize that Wal-Mart creates economic displacement, not economic development. Now that Wal-Mart has left you at the altar, it’s time to amend Aledo’s zoning code to limit the size of retail buildings to 65,000 s.f. For a small, rural community, size matters. Put the lid on these chain stores, and watch your local businesses expand, and keep their earnings local.”