Business owners vexed by Mantachie Walmart rumor

wm_frown* Small business owners appeared before the Mantachie board to express their concerns about how the retail giant might impact their town.

The rumors that Walmart may be opening a small store in Mantachie have some of the town’s local business owners upset.

In early April, The Itawamba County Times reported that Walmart is rumored to be eying Mantachie to open one of its 300 or so pilot small-form Walmart Express stores. During last week’s regular meeting of the Mantachie Board of Aldermen, a group of 10 or so local business owners expressed their concerns about that possibility.

“I think it’s no secret why we’re all here; we’re concerned about the largest retailer in the world coming into our town,” said Chuck Wood, who said he represented the group as a whole. Wood and his wife, Millie, own several area convenience stores.

“Historically, the numbers show that when Walmart comes into a small community, small businesses like ours suffer,” Wood continued. “If history repeats itself like it has all across America, my family … all of our families … will be wondering what to do next. What would we do? Where could we go?”

Wood’s words were echoed again and again by his fellow area business owners: If Walmart shows up, small businesses will die.

“Walmart is not just coming here to compete; Walmart is coming here to put us out of business,” said Alan Cates, owner of Mantachie Foods.

“We have built some good businesses here; that’s been a tool to bring people to Mantachie,” said Guyton Hinds, owner of Mantachie Printing. He pointed to Cates. “They’ll take his ad and they’ll take [Dorsey Food Mart’s] ad and they’ll price match them. We love Mantachie, and we want to see it grow. But like we said, the numbers don’t lie: They will put our small businesses out of business.”

Wood said he worries about the possible domino effect Walmart’s presence might have: Walmart runs small businesses out of business; the small businesses can no longer support community organizations; the community organizations can no longer function without the help of small businesses; the community, as a whole, suffers. They also expressed their concerns about increased traffic and crime.

“It’s our cry to you before the final nail is put into the coffin on this deal … Do your research and see what’s going on,” Wood said.

As Wood suggested, stacks of research have been done on the positive and negative effects the world’s largest retailer has on the communities it enters. It seems for just about every article Google finds touting the apocalyptic effects the stores can have on small towns, there’s an article asserting just the opposite. While there’s no doubt the store damages the sales figures of the businesses with which it directly competes, the retail giant often attracts more businesses eager to feed off of the store’s increased traffic. For a town like Mantachie, which has no property taxes and relies on nothing but sales tax revenue to survive, the prospect of new businesses is not only tempting, it’s vital. That said, none of the town’s officials would want their local businesses to suffer, either.

Of course, at this point, the concerns could be considered somewhat premature. According to Mayor Jeff Butler, he was contacted by a Memphis-based engineering firm about constructing a convenience store on property located off Highway 371, across from Delmar’s. The firm requested details about the town — zoning, water flow, local ordinances … the whole kit and caboodle. Questions about which company the firm was representing went unanswered.

Butler said he has heard through several sources that the company might be Walmart, looking to open one of its pilot Walmart Express stores in the area. These stores are intended to breech the market in small towns that aren’t big enough to support a full-size Walmart, and big cities where it’s impractical to build a supercenter. They target the same customer base as stores like Dollar General and Freds, both of which have Mantachie locations. In bigger cities, they would target Walgreens and CVS shoppers.

The mayor said all he knows for certain is that the proposed store will be about 12,000 square feet in size (roughly a third of the size of a Walmart Supercenter). It will likely feature a small selection of groceries, a pharmacy and a couple of fuel pumps. Representatives from the firm originally stated their intentions to present site plans at last week’s meeting, but were delayed in the plans’ preparations. They are expected to appear at a future meeting.

Beyond that, Butler said, everything is up in the air.

“We haven’t heard exactly what it’s going to be,” the mayor told the crowd. “Honestly, none of us know for sure … It’s hard for us, as a board, to deal with this until we know what it is … I’m 99.97 percent sure it’s Walmart, but I’m not 100 percent. Until something is submitted, it’s just hearsay.”

Of course, even if Walmart does decide to open a store inside Mantachie, what could be done about it? That’s the question from both the board and business owners. Butler told the crowd that if the company decides to set up shop, there’s likely little that can be done.

“We can’t just make up rules and regulations because it’s Walmart,” Butler said. “You’re talking about stopping a business from coming to town. I know it’s Walmart, but they’re basically looking at it as if …”

Butler nodded toward Wood.

“… what if Chuck Wood wanted to open a new business? We wouldn’t try to stop him.”

The business owners said they understood the board’s position, but urged them to do their best to, if not prevent the retail giant from taking up space inside the town, at least consider the ramification its presence could have.

“We thought it was very important to come and let you know how we feel before anything is on the table,” Wood said. “What mark do you want to leave on the town? Where do we want the future of Mantachie to be? I want the town to be here for years to come. But facing a giant like that … we couldn’t even pool our resources and put a dent in something like that.

“We just ask you to be mindful of what we have at stake and what the town has at stake,” Wood added.

The board agreed that they would keep local business owners’ feelings in mind, but reiterated that their options will probably be limited.

“The first thing we’ll have to do as a board is check what we can and can’t do legally,” Butler said. “It might not be what we want to do, but we have to operate within the limits of the law.”

About Adam Armour

Adam Armour has been writing and taking photographs for "The Itawamba County Times" since 2005. His words and pictures have earned 18 Mississippi Press Association Awards, including several "Best of" category recognitions. He has written and independently published one novel and is currently working on a second.

, ,

  • Confused

    My wife and I both live in Mantachie and work in Tupelo and buy 95% of our groceries at Kroger and get almost 100% of our gas in Mooreville. If we need something quick we go to Dollar General in Mantachie. Mantachie Foods has good meat and I will continue to buy meat from there. I don’t see how Wal-Mart moving to town is bad if I will be spending more money in Mantachie because I refuse to pay more in the name of supporting a local business. In a capitalist economy if you can’t handle a competitor you shouldn’t be in the competition. Besides, why is Wal-Mart causing a stir when Dollar General and Fred’s haven’t shut any business down?

    • Thanks for your comment, Confused.

      I’m hoping some of our local businesses will thrive because of this. Even the business owners at the meeting agreed that the “threat of Walmart” has brought them together. That’s a positive.

      I’m neither pro nor anti Walmart; I shop there, but like to spread my money around to other businesses, too. But, for all the negatives people like to bring up about the retail giant, there are some positives, too. For example, the Fulton Food Pantry was facing a disastrous shortage of both food and funding a few years back; if not for Walmart’s regular donations of thousands of pounds of food, they might have gone under. The ripple effect from that would have been horrible.

      Of course, it’s easy to say that when I’m not a business owner who feels threatened by the arrival of this formidable opponent. But it’s important to look at all angles of a situation, both positive and negative.

      Thanks again for commenting.

      – Adam Armour