News that Wal-Mart plans to bring a combination grocery store and retail outlet to Woodland Park sparked community outcry this fall over fears the store would eclipse main street businesses and destroy the city's small-town quality of life.
Battle lines are already forming for hearings next March that will determine the nation's largest retailer's chances of opening a supercenter in this 7,300-resident mountain city 20 miles west of Colorado Springs.
Protesters say businesses on Midland Avenue, Woodland Park's main drag, should prepare to close shop if Wal-Mart comes to town. But during a recent informal survey, several business owners along the strip expressed decidedly mixed views on the topic.
"I would rather have Wal-Mart stay in Colorado Springs," said Bob Taylor, owner of The Jeweler, a custom jewelry shop. "I would like to see Woodland Park go the direction of Breckenridge," he said, referring to the Colorado mountain ski town's downtown strip filled with small shops.
"I just don't think Wal-Mart is the business we need here," echoed Merry Jo Larsen, who owns the Cowhand, a western store selling cowboy hats, saddles and dungarees. "We fight being a bedroom community as it is; we've got to have our own identity."
As in other communities faced with the possibility of the retail behemoth coming to town, opponents point to the city's hardware stores, its five-and-dime and a decades-long citywide effort to promote a unique downtown business district that could be wiped out by competition from a Wal-Mart.
They also note that city voters in 1988 already defeated an initiative to lure Wal-Mart into opening a store using city-funded infrastructure incentives. The difference between 1988 and now, many business owners said, is that Teller County's population has grown so much that Wal-Mart no longer needs incentives to come knocking. The 2003 population of Teller County was 21,786, according to U.S. Census estimates, up from 12,468 in 1990.
As much as Larsen opposes the Wal-Mart prospect, she fears that, if Woodland Park votes against the revenue giant, the company could instead open a store in nearby Divide or Crystola. That would bring all of Wal-Mart's negative aspects, she said, but deprive Woodland Park of lucrative tax receipts from the store.
Others offer a different point of view. Michelle Felton, owner of Hoochie Mamma Mountaineering, says that Wal-Mart might fill more gaps than it shuts doors. "Look around my business," she said. "I have a vacant building, a pawn shop, a check cashing place. Who do you think Wal-Mart is going to put out of business?"
"I'd love to see it come," said Doug Danielson, co-owner of A Bridge in Time Antique Mall. "It'd change [shoppers'] attitude about Woodland Park," and keep consumers from driving to Colorado Springs to do their shopping.
Underwear, socks, shoes -- you can't get anything [in Woodland Park]," he said. "The only place to get clothing is the Cowhand, and not everyone is a cowboy."
-- Dan Wilcock
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