Jefferson Banner - Opinion
Wal-Mart in Jefferson
Survey of Real Estate Brokers

Scope of the Survey

The study concentrated on a sampling of real estate brokers and chamber of commerce offices in towns with similar demographics to Jefferson. These communities included but were not limited to, county seats, stand alone cities, industrial towns or areas known for recreation with populations of 3,500 to 8,500. 

The telephone survey consisted of questions concerning the type and number of businesses that are located in town, including auto parts stores, appliance stores, variety stores, grocery stores, sporting good stores, jewelry stores, drug stores, hardware stores, population figures, what are the main industries, what home values have been prior and since the Wal-Mart located in the community and what effect there has been on commercial development.

In addition, I asked, knowing what you know today, would you be in favor or would you be against a Wal-Mart in your community. This telephone poll was made between January 8, 2003 and January 17, 2003.

Local Comments

Prairie du Chien
Arnie Broker/Owner

Prairie du Chien is a destination community, known for recreation, located along the banks of the Mississippi River with a population of 6,200. They presently have 2 auto parts stores, 3 pharmacies, 1 jewelry store, 2 appliance stores, 2 hardware stores, 2 grocery stores, 1 shoe store, 5 sporting good stores and 2 variety stores.

Wal-Mart has been in Prairie du Chien for fifteen years, they had been located in a shopping center with Dick's Super Market, which is a region super market chain in south western Wisconsin. The SuperCenter was built approximately eighteen months ago about a mile south of the original store. When the SuperCenter opened the Food Pride Grocery Store closed immediately. I later found out that this was an older, smaller store approximately 7,000 square feet and the owner was an older gentleman already considering retiring. The Agri-Center that concentrated on farm equipment but also carried the banner of Ace Hardware was sold to its local competition, just prior to the opening of the SuperCenter, but later closed. Arnie states that some of the businesses felt the initial effects of a Wal-Mart, however, all appeared to have recovered.

When Wal-Mart opened the SuperCenter eighteen months ago, there was no change in the existing business with the exception of the grocery stores. The Dick's Grocery store was fearful of Wal-Mart, Arnie states that he is a friend of the manager; Dick's anticipated a 35% decrease in the store with a return of 20% over the next two years. The effect was much more devastating, the actual was 50%, however the return business was 35% within eighteen months, sooner than expected. 

Home values in the area have remained stable or have shown minimal appreciation, there is one new subdivision of forty lots, and only one lot has been sold. There was some development when the original Wal-Mart came into town; the Dick's Grocery Store and some small tenant space was created. There has been no change in the commercial development since the SuperCenter. There has been some industrial development since the original Wal-Mart, Cabalas, which does some manufacturing and retail sales located In Prairie du Chien.

Tracy Sales Associate Crystal Chamber of Commerce

Rhinelander is located 130 miles north west of Green Bay with a population of 8,000. The city is a stand alone community with several smaller towns located within a twenty five mile radius. The community is known for recreation. 

There is 1 hardware store, not including the Home Depot or the Menards, 3 jewelry stores, 3 pharmacies, not including the K-Mart or Shopko, 3 variety stores, 1 shoe store, 2 sporting goods stores, 2 auto parts stores and 3 grocery stores.

Wal-Mart has been located in Rhinelander for 10 years and has converted to a SuperCenter within the past year. Tracy indicated that there has been growth in the residential market and development commercially, she also stated that Rhinelander is experiencing a shortage of housing. Since the Wal-Mart there has been the addition of Menards and Home Depot, K-Mart and Shopko were already in place. 

Neither Tracy or Crystal were in town when Wal-Mart originally opened so they were unable to comment on what effect the original Wal-Mart had on the community. Before Wal-Mart became a SuperCenter there were 4 grocery stores and 2 hardware stores.

According to Crystal the one hardware store was located downtown and had a very good following; however the owner decided to retire in part because his property is more valuable now than when it was operating as a hardware store.

The County Market Grocery Store did close its doors when the SuperCenter was opened. Crystal point outs that there is a misnomer on why the County Market closed and that Wal-Mart probably didn't cause the closure. She feels the most likely reason that County Market closed was that it had been located on the north side of Rhinelander and had a thriving business, but decided to move and locate in the Eastpointe Center.

Eastpointe Center was where all the new development had been occurring, Menards, Home Depot, Wal-Mart and K-Mart were all located in the Eastpointe Center. County Market decided to re-locate directly across the street from Wal-Mart and when Wal-Mart became a SuperCenter, County Market shut the doors. It is Crystal's opinion that if they had remained on the north side they would still be viable today.

The other smaller grocery store that went out was Reeve's, again Crystal said that this could not be attributed to Wal-Mart. Her explanation is that Reeve's upon hearing that Wal-Mart was expanding to a SuperCenter changed their business plan and targeted the older population, by widening the aisles, widening the parking spaces in the lot, making larger signage inside and outside the store and carried an inventory that appealed more to the senior citizens.

Unfortunately, there was a power play with the distributor and another grocery store, Reeve's was forced to close. This store is now a Sav-O-Lot and appears to be very successful. Since the opening of the SuperCenter, Aldi's has now opened in Rhinelander.

Dave Broker/Owner Tina Chamber of Commerce

Viroqua is located approximately 35 miles south of La Crosse and is a community of 4,000 people. There are 3 auto part stores, 2 variety stores, a family dollar store is under construction, 1 grocery store, 1 sporting goods store, 1 jewelry store, 2 drug stores, 1 appliance store and 1 hardware store. 

The residential market has remained constant or has had some appreciation. There has been some additional commercial development, but that could not be directly attributed to the Wal-Mart in town. Before Wal-Mart became a SuperCenter the Jubilee grocery store re-located in a strip mall type of setting increasing the size of the store.
Dave the real estate broker's comments are worth repeating. When I identified who I was and what I was doing he had plenty to say about Wal-Mart and none of them were positive about Wal-Mart. He told me that Wal-Mart had forced him out of business; he explained that he owned a Jewelry/Sporting Goods Store that he had purchased from his in-laws a few years earlier. 

He accused Wal-Mart of using predatory pricing to force him to close. I later found out from Tina at the Chamber of Commerce that Dave didn't own the only jewelry store or sporting goods store in town when Wal-Mart opened. Tina, who answers the phone at the Chamber office also works at the Jubilee grocery store. She stated that the business in the grocery store went down about 25% and that they have been able to reclaim about half of the business back, however she could not verify those number.s.
As my conversation with Dave continued, we talked about our two communities; he asked if our downtown was full of antique stores and secondhand stores. I replied that we are the county seat and that our downtown consists of service oriented businesses, some specialty shops and professional businesses. When I explained that we were a town of 7,300 and told him exactly what retail we had available in Jefferson, a stunning change of heart occurred, He said to me, “You know maybe a Wal-Mart wouldn't be so bad for your town.” 

Bridget Sales Associate Edie Chamber of Commerce

Tomah is located approximately 90 miles North of Madison and has a population of 8,000. The residential market has been steadily increasing and the commercial market has seen an immense increase, bringing new small businesses, including sandwich shops, restaurants, beauty salons and a new water park into the city.

Presently there are 2 auto parts stores, 4 appliance stores, 1 shoe store, 2 hardware stores, 2 jewelry stores, 2 pharmacies and 3 grocery stores.

The Wal-Mart has been in Tomah for approximately 8-10 years and became a SuperCenter approximately 2 years ago. Aldi's opened a store about a year after the SuperCenter. The two original grocery stores both seemed to have lost some market share initially. Bridget indicated that she is friends with the manager of Burnstad's Grocery and he said that at the outset the store lost a lot of their business but has seemed to recover, she didn't give an indication as to how much a lot is or how much they have recovered.

The Mega-Food was purchased by County Market about a year ago. When I composed this I found that I had been remiss in asking Bridget, when the Mega-Food Store was closed or had it just changed hands to a County Market. I would certainly be happy to do some follow-up.

Shannon Sales Associate

Antigo is located 81 miles north west of Green Bay and is considered a stand alone community, known for recreation. The population is 8,600. There are 2 auto parts stores, 3 appliance stores, 3 variety stores, 3 grocery stores, 2 sporting good stores, 2 jewelry stores, 2 drug stores and a Fleet Farm. The community was just informed that the K-Mart will be one of the stores closing in this round of closings.

Shannon indicated that home values have increased and some commercial development has occurred. The Wal-Mart has been a SuperCenter for the past 18 months. I asked if there had been any closings of any of the downtown businesses or if any of the businesses had suffered any losses.

She pointed out that she was unaware of any of the businesses losing money, “to the contrary Copps Foods bought the Festival Foods and expanded.” I also asked if Wal-Mart was a pleasant experience or bad experience, she stated that it has been a very good thing for the community.

Ken Broker/Appraiser Linda Chamber of Commerce

Located 25 miles south of Green Bay, Chilton is a stand alone community with approximately 3,700 people. The town is a farming community with some industry. There is 1 auto parts store, 2 appliance stores, which includes the Sears that was built about a year ago, 1 grocery store, 1 drug store, 1 hardware store and 1 shoe store. Chilton has a regular Wal-Mart without the grocery, the store is approximately five years old.

Ken stated he was familiar with Jefferson and that their downtown and uptown are similar to ours, containing some empty buildings. The most recent store to close was a dry cleaner, but it had closed years ago. The furniture store built a bigger building and moved from the downtown.

Ken said that most of the businesses in town adjusted the way they operated to be able to compete with Wal-Mart. The example he gave was the hardware store. In the past, they had sold clothes, so they eliminated the clothes and added a Radio Shack. He feels that they benefited from the addition.

Ken also sited an example of a town that didn't get the Wal-Mart, he mentioned New Holstein, Wisconsin. They had a Pamida and Wal-Mart had considered locating in New Holstein but decided to come to Chilton. The Pamida closed shortly after Wal-Mart opened. More visitors from the surrounding area are coming into Chilton. They are in the process of breaking ground for a new Family Dollar Store.

When asked about home values, he indicated that there had been a mild appreciation. However, commercial development he said has improved bringing in the Sears, a new bank, the Furniture Store who actually built a bigger building and now the Family Dollar.

Carolyn Sales Associate

Plymouth is located 50 miles north of Milwaukee and has a population of 7,800. This community probably mirrors Jefferson more than any single community. The location is very comparable to Jefferson in that it is situated between two major metropolitan areas and two larger urban areas and the populations are very close.

Unfortunately, the Wal-Mart, which is a SuperCenter, is only six months old. So, no conclusions could be drawn from the impact of a Wal-Mart in the community. However, it would be my suggestion to monitor what happens in Plymouth. The city has 2 auto parts stores, 2 appliance stores, 1 variety store, 2 grocery stores, 2 jewelry stores, 1 drug store, 1 hardware store, a K-Mart and a Fleet Farm.

Carolyn states that the Wal-Mart has encouraged some commercial development; there are plans for a new hotel complex and a new housing subdivision. Home prices have been in line with the average appreciation.

Larry Sales Associate

Hayward is located in the north west part of the state, the population of the community is 7,000 people. Hayward is best known for its logging industry and tourism. There are 3 auto parts stores, 3 variety stores, 2 grocery stores, 1 sporting good store, 3 jewelry stores 2 drug stores, 2 appliance stores and 2 hardware stores. Hayward has had a SuperCenter for approximately one year.
Larry informed me that home sales have been increasing however, he attributed this more to the recreational properties than from the Wal-Mart or the other commercial development coming into town. He also stated that the Wal-Mart has spurred some commercial development; they are adding a Slumberland furniture store. Larry said that he felt that Wal-Mart has been a plus for the city.

Black River Falls
Jenny Sales Associate George Broker

Black River Falls is 110 miles from the Minneapolis area and has a population of 3,600. They have had a regular Wal-Mart for about ten years. They have 2 auto parts stores, 3 appliance stores, 1 variety store, 2 grocery stores, 2 sporting good stores, 1 jewelry store, and 2 hardware stores.

George felt that initially when the Wal-Mart opened its doors, the local businesses felt the impact. I asked him for specifics but the only answer he could give me was the hardware store. George said that the Federated Hardware store changed the type of inventory that they had originally carried. They now sell more guns than paint.

Asked if Wal-Mart has affected home values the answer was no. There has however been a major increase in commercial development in this small town, they added a Culver's, a pizza place, a new bank, jewelry store and new shopping mall.

Rice Lake
Roxanne Sales Associate

Rice Lake is a town of 8,500 people located approximately 150 miles north of Eau Claire. This community is known for logging and tourism. There are 1 auto parts stores, 3 appliance stores, 1 variety store, 2 grocery stores, 2 sporting good stores, 3 jewelry stores, 2 drug stores, not including K-Mart or Shopko, 1 Hardware store, not including Menard's and 2 shoe stores. Wal-Mart has been in Rice Lake for ten years. Home sales have remained consistent and there has been commercial development around the Wal-Mart.

Positive Points

Of all of the people that were interviewed, one said that they would not recommend having a Wal-Mart locate in there community. Although later in the conversation he did affirm that it may not be such a bad thing for Jefferson. Three people had no opinion either for or against having a Wal-Mart in their city and the remaining eleven overwhelming stated that it was a good or great thing for their communities.

It appears that the hardware stores actually benefit from a Wal-Mart coming into their cities; several hardware stores increased the size of their stores, added new inventory and draw more people into their stores.

Most cities with a Wal-Mart have seen an increase in the amount of commercial development offering its residents more goods and services. The long term effect has been an increase in business traffic to existing businesses not a decrease, however, short term there is an initial curiosity.

Opinions of those interviewed felt the residents of these communities were very happy having the convenience and the variety that a Wal-Mart offers. If more research is needed then I would suggest getting the opinions of the citizens.

Negative Points

I find it very disturbing that there are several empty buildings consisting of 60,000 to 80,000 square feet in some of these communities that have moved from a Wal-Mart to a SuperCenter. Having some experience in commercial leasing and the sale of such buildings, it is very difficult for some of these smaller communities to find new tenants for these buildings, they just can't support another large tenant.

It would be my suggestion to the Planning Commission and to the City Council that they require some type of bond to be in place, so that if they do close and the building remains vacant for a period of time, say three to five years, that they would be require to restore the site to its original condition.
The other notable fact is that grocery stores seem to feel the impact, positive or negative, of a SuperCenter and some communities more severely than others. Some communities actually added grocery stores. The fact remains that of all the businesses, grocery is the one that shows the most effect. As Crystal stated this may be contributed to marketing or lack thereof or poor business decisions.


Though the information is consistent, this is not a scientific poll and is based solely on the opinions of those individuals that were interviewed. I targeted communities that are similar to Jefferson. I did not question the owners of any of the hardware stores, drug stores or jewelry stores, those answers may be contradictory to my findings.

In addition, I did not survey the citizens of these communities; however I have been able to draw some conclusions from a Wal-Mart locating in these towns. The people seem to be very happy with Wal-Mart.

I also did some research into Mr. Norman's neighborhood, Greenfield, MA. The people there are not happy and the city is in a budget crisis, since the Ames Store closed they have no department stores, with the exception of a Wilson's which one resident described as a “Macy's of Massachusetts”, very high end and expensive.

When Mr. Norman started his crusade against Wal-Mart there was a Penney's, Sears, Ames and Wilson's. They are gone with the exception of Wilson's. I do not attribute the closing of these stores to Mr. Norman, it's a natural attrition. Jefferson was once a vibrant community when I moved here in 1972, there were 3 hardware stores, 2 jewelry stores, 3 shoe stores and 5 grocery stores. Things change as Greenfield found out and as Jefferson has found out.

There has been an effort to revitalize our downtown. Many committees have been formed and large amounts of money have been available to anyone who has an interest in developing a business in our downtown.

Because of these efforts we are seeing a transformation and there has been more activity in our downtown than there has been in the last ten years. The new downtown is a place of professionals with some specialty retail. Our downtown is not unique; there are many communities that are struggling with filling empty buildings. After speaking to many of these cities the increase in people coming into town has actually helped their downtowns and communities attract more businesses.

One thing that I have found to be fascinating is the fact for our community has made this extremely controversial, in the other cities there were very few negative comments. It may have been I just hit the people that shop at Wal-Mart but it gave the impression to me that this has been a positive for these communities.

It may seem that I spent a lot of time on this research, I did. This is an issue that will come before me at the Planning Commission level and I have been commissioned to look to see what is in the best interest of this community. This issue and the ultimate decision for or against are going to make some people happy and others upset. I want to make sure that I have all the facts and know the consequences before I make a final decision. 

This issue reminds me of another controversial issue, it has been mentioned a couple of times recently and that is the location of the Puerner Street Bridge. The one glaring difference between the two issues is that the bridge was an unknown. We did not know what the effect of moving the bridge would have on our city. In the case of Wal-Mart however there are at least twenty examples in the state of Wisconsin of what happens to a community. So if your still having a hard time making a decision, then my advice would be to call the citizens of Chilton, Tomah or any one of the other communities and see what kind of response you receive.

Some advice if you make the calls, always keep an open mind, remember who you are talking with and if they have some motivation either way and take a large sampling. 

There was a time when our ancestors had to make a decision, in the 1800's when towns had to make a choice of allowing the railroads through town, those that did prospered, those that didn't died.

Respectfully submitted,

Christopher Nash