The Davis County Clipper newspaper reports this week that Wal-Mart’s impact on Tooele, Utah has been a mixed blessing. The community’s downtown is smattered with empty storefronts, but a chamber of commerce official says all business failures in town can’t be blamed on Wal-Mart. Chamber of Commerce President Keith Bird said of Wal-Mart’s arrival, “It’s good and bad. There were some (businesses) that were doing quite well, and then closed in a short time.”
One such store was Christensen’s, a department store that was (and still is) a mainstay in many Utah communities away from Salt Lake City and major Wasatch Front counties. “It was a large store and had done well,” Bird explained. “When Wal-Mart first came seeking approval to build a store, they told city officials this is what we’ll carry (product-wise), so don’t (existing merchants) try to carry those. “That was what they promised, but then they went and carried many of the same products they said they wouldn’t,” he said. “Then merchants realized it wasn’t just a matter of Wal-Mart coming into town, they did price checking. At the grocery stores, they checked such things as diapers, to beat our prices,” Bird said. “They (merchants) knew it would be an effect of Wal-Mart’s coming in, but not to that extent,” he said. Only a few months after Wal-Mart first opened, Christensen’s closed down. JC Penney, which operated one of its smaller catalog-type stores there, didn’t renew its lease around that same time. “Some stores have opened since Wal-Mart, and have struggled, but they knew what they were up against.” A sporting goods store that carried the same shotguns as Wal-Mart went under. Two restaurants moved to new quarters, perhaps hoping to play on Wal-Mart’s success, and quickly closed because of skyrocketing rents. Tooele had no other big discount stores. But there also isn’t a clothing store or a steakhouse restaurant, for example. While Wal-Mart is a member of the Chamber, Bird said, many other, smaller members provide a lot more support. For example, the hospital, owned by an eastern company, “donates to everything. They provided four bikes for an Easter egg hunt give-away.
“Wal-Mart could easily have done that. They want the community to support them, but they don’t give back.”
When I was in Sandy, Utah, and Centerville, helping those two communities battle against proposed Wal-Mart supercenters, Tooele was described as a nearby community that had suffered through the Wal-Mart effect. Most Chambers of Commerce try to see the “good and bad” of Wal-Mart coming, but the bad is mostly what came out in the Chamber’s description of what really happened in Tooele.