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Wal-Mart in Jefferson

This letter is from Bob Patel, the owner and general manager of the Rodeway Inn on the south side of Jefferson, near the proposed Wal-Mart site. Bob sent this letter to the Jefferson Development Commission, and it is reprinted here with his permission in a slightly revised form.

Dear Development Commission,

I would first and foremost like to thank you for taking the time to read my letter. I know that you have many difficult decisions facing you in the near future. I first had thought that I would not have to get involved, but it's become apparent that it has become inevitable. I feel that the businesses that don't want a Wal-Mart have been well heard but the businesses that do want one have not spoken or have not been heard from. When I first purchased this property many people asked me, "Why in Jefferson out of all the places you could have purchased a hotel?" A year and a half ago I had an answer for that, but I don't know if I do anymore. I'd like to say that Jefferson is a thriving community, although I can't. Jefferson is not thriving and it is not growing. Honestly this document is not specifically fighting for Wal-Mart but rather the economic growth for Jefferson. It could be a Home Depot, Office Max, Sears, or Dunkin Donuts, Baskin Robins and others. Although those businesses don't want to come here, do they? Wal-Mart does.

Discussing the issue with business owners from one end of town to the other, I've learned that the morale of the business community is low. In this time of economic distress we have to do all we can to make sure that our community can survive. Not just now but years from now.

Local businesses in town right now are not doing as well as once hoped. An example of this is:

1. Spoon a restaurant that just opened up last year is already closed
2. Used car dealership on south side of town, now closed.
3. Schweiger, now closed.
4. Latino Hair Salon (Less than 1 year) now closed
5. Only 3 out of 6 spaces are filled at the County Market Plaza.
(No change for a year and a half at that plaza)
6. Various empty spaces in down town.
7. Morgan and Myers Closing shop and leaving Jefferson shortly
8. Hardee's on main street (Empty as long as I've known)

How much of our tax base is the town losing?
I'd like everyone to keep an eye on all of these now empty spaces and let us see how long they take to fill. I hope this exercise helps the public understand the harsh reality of Jefferson, that there really are not many businesses fighting to come here. Yet!

We don't need a Wal-Mart in town to close down stores we NEED one here to open up new ones. We should try a new direction. As a business investor in town I believe that it is my responsibility to inform City Council that things are not progressing as fast as I had hoped. This town needs something now more than ever to make it a destination town. We need the traffic in our town. There is a big difference between what is through traffic and traffic. Through traffic is what we have now, traffic on the other hand can be good. It's traffic that is stopping in town and spending money in town. I guarantee that the businesses in town will love that traffic. We need the real traffic and exposure that a Wal-Mart can bring. Wal-Mart showing an interest in our town is the perfect opportunity for us as a community to grow and prosper especially since at the moment I don't recall any new businesses wanting to build here. Someone once said that Wal-Mart will bring to much traffic to our town. Really? You don't want more traffic in this town? Let's just stop promoting Jefferson all together shall we? No more car show, it brings to much traffic! Using traffic as an excuse is NOT a good reason not to welcome Wal-Mart here. I welcome more traffic. Business owners would be crazy not to welcome it. A solution to relieve traffic is not very difficult ladies and gentlemen; build more roads. You know as well as I that traffic is the main cause that help towns grow. The real question is what is the development commission going to do to revitalize this economy? As a business owner and an investor I have a right to know. Spending millions downtown to make it look good is very nice, (and by the way you did a good job with that), but you must have some sort of return on that investment.

One issue that was brought up at the Wal-Mart Debate in September was the wage Wal-Mart paid its employees. I believe it was from 6 dollars to 15. I called 6 local businesses in town and 6 out of 6 businesses start out their employees at 6 or 7 dollars an hour. Isn't that what Wal-Mart Pays? Right now I have over 100 applications on my desk for people in this area looking for jobs. In the salary requirement, not one has a pay listed that is over 8 dollars. Did anyone ever think that there may be people out there that want these types of jobs? All of my applications are proof of that fact. 80% of jobs in this town, (excluding industrial), pay close to minimum wage. It is true that we could use more industrial jobs that pay more; but what in the world does that have to do with a Wal-Mart? We have a better chance of having those types of industrial businesses in Jefferson if a Wal-Mart were here. Not having one here will not effect industrial development what-so-ever. It would just remain the same. Do we even have signs on 26 that inform potential investors that we have land available for industrial growth? Someone also said that Wal-Mart will bring more crime and thief to our community. That's kind of a weird comment. Who is going to commit these crimes, us, or our kids? I know that people of Jefferson have raised their kids better than that. Or will all the gangsters and thieves from the cities move to Jefferson so that they could steal from our Wal-Mart? I'm sorry I don't understand that comment. Wal-Mart is not going to bring more crime here.

I have been living here for two years now and have not bought much from downtown Jefferson. It's not because I don't want to shop there it's because I can not find what I need from there. When I need a new shirt to wear to work I go to Johnson Creek, spend $130 to $200 dollars every time I'm there. I shop there twice a month. That's 260 to 400 dollars in lost revenue for Jefferson. When my printer is out of ink I shop either on the internet or I go to Fort Atkinson and buy it from Jonas office products. All other supplies I usually buy from Sam's Club in Waukesha. The point is all these items I buy from other towns I would like to someday buy from here, when it's available. This town needs to be compared to the surrounding towns. Lake Mills is growing, Johnson Creek is booming and Fort Atkinson is also growing. Seems like every town in Jefferson County is growing at an exceptional rate, except ours! Why is that? Rather than have our citizens go everywhere else to shop lets keep them here and bring citizens from other communities here to shop as well!

When I first purchased this hotel here in Jefferson, I looked at Jefferson as being a blank slate, which has such a tremendous opportunity to grow and mature. There is no doubt in my mind that Jefferson is a beautiful little town, it just needs to grow. Build more homes and create demand for the business in town. That is what the surrounding towns are doing. Being a business owner in town I keep hearing of new businesses going to surrounding towns, and I'm trying to figures out what is coming to Jefferson. As I stated before, Jefferson does not need help from Wal-Mart to close our stores down, it's already happening without it. We need Wal-Mart here to open new stores. I don't think anyone can deny that Wal-Mart brings in new businesses. We have more stores closing than we do opening. That to me is a sign of a weak economy.

Everything that I'm hearing is about how much Wal-Mart hurts stores and closes them down. Well let me tell you how a Wal-Mart will help me as a business. The exposure that I would receive from a Wal-Mart across the street is priceless. People would be like, "Look there is a Rodeway hotel in this town, I've never even been in this town before, let's go see what else is here!" Also contractors, engineers and construction workers from a Wal-Mart would book me for a year and the business would also have residual income from all the managers and Wal-Mart personnel that go to Wal-Mart every week after it's built. Not to mention new businesses in town that Wal-Mart would attracted. I live on property here at the hotel and I eat out every single day. I may not be the healthiest person after all of that but I eat like a king. That is a lot of income for restaurants in Jefferson. What if there were 80 of me that eat out everyday for 1 year. As you all may be aware of is that the hotel now has to collect an occupancy tax or room tax that is used to promote tourism in our town.

Currently the room tax is 5%. The Choice Hotels room rate for Wal-Mart Employees is 49.95 plus tax, may be less or may be more. That can be a big chunk of money for our chamber of commerce and City Hall. Currently the City collects 90% of the room tax from this hotel and it's 4 times what they normally predicted the amount to be.

Wal-Mart can do many things for St. Colleta's and Opportunities. Think about how many Opportunities and St. Coletta residents can be offered a job there. I employ at most 14 employees; one is from St. Coletta's and 2 are from Opportunities. (Among some of my best employees) Wal-Mart employs 400, how many of those do you think can be Opportunity or St. Coletta residents? Wal-Mart donates millions to organizations like those every year. If nothing else those donations are well worth it.

I won't lie to you, with two large hotels being built in Johnson creek I can't survive here without a Wal-Mart. I don't know what other hotels in the area will be doing because it will be hurting them too but it has become clear to me that Wal-Mart or any other industrial growth is necessary in Jefferson for Rodeway Inn to stay alive. I've had to lay off 3 people this month because I don't have enough work for them. I have to do that every winter because it slows down. But what happens next year when 2 huge hotels are finished in Johnson Creek? I'll admit one thing; I would rather welcome 2 huge hotels to Jefferson rather than in Johnson Creek. I would at least still have a chance to compete. But unfortunately they are not here; they went to Johnson Creek because people are going to Johnson Creek. Jefferson is losing the battle my friends. Anyone that says people come from out of town to spend money here is deluding themselves. I have met many people; remember I work at a hotel. I know why people come here! I'll tell you that it's not to go buy stuff in Jefferson. It's to go buy something in Cambridge or they are going to the mall in Johnson Creek. I have been here for a year and a half and in all honesty I have not heard one guest say that they came to Jefferson to shop in Jefferson, not one. Man, think about it, that is soooooooo depressing. Don't you think we are doing something wrong? We can either grow or grow smaller. There is no staying in the middle, that's impossible.

The point is that we can't wait anymore. 2 more years of decision making won't cut it anymore. The decision for our future and all other businesses that would benefit from a Wal-Mart and growth in our community must be made now!

With a Wal-Mart here I think I can give you a pretty clear picture of what will happen, we can deal with any issue as they arise but without one I don't know what's going to happen, and I think the worst part is not knowing. Having the attitude that everything is Okay will just get us deeper into the hole. Please realize this now!

I ask for your trust and respect of my opinion. Remember my opinions are not solely about Wal-Mart but for the growth of this community. Negativity and denial only comes out when we are afraid of change. I know I'm not an expert economist but I do know what we need. I know a Wal-Mart will work out here. This is the time for Jefferson! It all depends on what we do and how we do it to make it a success. Local business owners have invested in this community because we believe it will grow. Let's make it happen. We have the chance right now. Lets' vote for the Wal-Mart and give it a new home here in Jefferson. We have to get back on track and start somewhere, this is it. Please do not let this opportunity pass us by.

Bob Patel
Local Business Owner for Wal-Mart and Economic Development of Jefferson