Thursday, March 11, 2010

11 MAR 10: Monster by the Lake?

How do you know when your city or town has hit the big time? Thirty years ago, it meant having a McDonald's. Ten years ago, it meant having a Starbucks. In 2010, it seems to take something bigger - either a "big box" store, or your own section of Craigslist.

The big time hit Eufaula Wednesday, as a new Wal-Mart SuperCenter opened. But residents shouldn't get too big an ego about this. After all, the old Wal-Mart Discount Center down the street closed the night before.

It's customary for Wal-Mart to make donations to local charities, when it opens a new store. One donation Wednesday stood out to me - $1,000 to "Main Street Eufaula." Isn't that sneaky and clever of Wal-Mart? It props up the very businesses it eventually wants to knock out....

Wal-Mart has been accused for years of tearing down "mom-and-pop" businesses. Of course, the department store chain countered such criticism with ads declaring how it "buys American" - well, before it started buying large amounts of products from China.

That sort of argument came up in Columbus five years ago, before Wal-Mart started construction on three SuperCenters [3 Mar 05]. So Wednesday's grand opening provides a nice opportunity to review what's happened since those big stores opened. First of all, I'd note that dozens of other stores remain open at Columbus Park Crossing....

The presence of a Wal-Mart SuperCenter at Columbus Park Crossing has NOT caused all the surrounding stores to fold. The locally-owned Traditions is still in business. And The Jewelers Touch moved to that area last year from Peachtree Mall - which could make skeptics wonder if one of these businesses really is selling cubic zirconia.

When the Wal-Mart on Airport Thruway became a SuperCenter, a couple of adjacent stores succumbed. Putting a Subway in the store while Blimpie was a few doors down looked like.... well, like a torpedo job....

(The other store that came to mind on Airport Thruway was Fred's. Columbus Airport only appears closed during parts of the day.)

The biggest concern about Wal-Mart SuperCenters seemed to come from Midland. Yet head down Gateway Drive and you'll find a separate strip mall next to Wal-Mart, with many of the businesses occupied. There HAS been economic loss in that part of town - but I don't think Wal-Mart is competing with Cessna and the G.B.I. Crime Lab.

The Columbus Wal-Mart SuperCenters haven't even emptied surrounding supermarkets, as the Phenix City store seemed to do in the last decade. Winn-Dixie somehow is holding on along Veterans Parkway near Columbus Park Crossing. Maybe it helps for Wal-Mart to be hiding on the other side of a hill.

(Winn-Dixie still sits on Buena Vista Road as well -- and the Wal-Mart next to it was simply upgraded last year, instead of becoming a SuperCenter. They're much closer to a peace treaty right now than Israel and the Palestinians.)

Eufaula Mayor Jay Jaxon says the new Wal-Mart SuperCenter actually will be a "strong positive" for local businesses. Some customers admitted to TV newscasts they drove to Dothan to shop at a SuperCenter. Those must be the people who don't have room in their homes for Piggly Wiggly "Plasma-palooza" TV sets.

There's one "big box" store that logically belongs in Barbour County, yet isn't there. An FLW fishing tournament opened at Lake Eufaula Wednesday -- yet Bass Pro Shops has NO store nearby?! You'd think they'd want all sorts of extra business, as frustrated pros keep trading in worms.

Now let's get caught up on other news from the last couple of days....

+ Muscogee County Sheriff John Darr said a man was caught with pure methamphetamine in his home, along with 19 fully-loaded weapons. Buck Ice isn't going to steal that guy's "ice" recipe without a fight.

+ The Columbus Mayor and City Manager lobbied the Georgia Lieutenant Governor in Atlanta, to keep a state crime lab open. After all, Columbus has about 100 new police officers now - and we can't afford to have 20 of them driving up and down Interstate 185 all the time, taking samples to Atlanta.

+ The process of expanding the Russell County Jail was put on hold, because Phenix City reportedly is having second thoughts about funding the project. Mayor Sonny Coulter wouldn't say why - but I really don't think a Jimmy Wetzel Cellblock is necessary.

+ State officials reported Columbus had a January unemployment rate of 10.4 percent. Alabama hit a 26-year high of 11.1 percent - and Victoryland staff members probably already are betting privately about how high February's rate will be. After all, they were in on the whole thing.

+ Hardaway High School was honored by the state for improving its graduation rate to more than 85 percent. Take that, you cynics! Students are learning in those portable classrooms - taking extra seconds to learn, before rushing to the main building in the rain.

+ Alabama Governor Bob Riley announced the state now has its own iPhone application. But if your iPhone also has an application for playing online casino games, it might not work....

(Please do NOT confuse this state government application with the "Alabama App" -- a way for iPhone users to select complete albums for listening. So what should a Georgia App do? Put all your other apps on furlough for an hour at a time?)

+ Roundball Night in Dixieland (tm) was disappointing for Taylor County High School. Its ladies lost in the state semifinals to Wesleyan 66-44. But at least one streak continued - another year with NO separate teams for Caucasian and African-American players.

+ The Columbus State University baseball team set a school record, with its 16th consecutive win. Uh-oh -- I remember the last time a local sports team had a winning streak this impressive. The Riverdragons don't play basketball here anymore.

+ Instant Message to former Georgia Tech baseball star Nomar Garciaparra: Best wishes on your retirement from the game - and we hope you don't vanish completely, by changing your first name to "No More."

COMING SOON: A woman calls my phone number at random, then wants to call me every week from now on....

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