By Angela Pratt
I'd like to add my two cents to the Suburban Plaza debate. First off, let me tell you where I live: south of Memorial Drive off Midway/Peachcrest. A few years back we had a big ruckus over the Walmart Supercenter that went in where the mall used to be. We picketed. We wrote letters. We petitioned.
Ultimately, Walmart came and did just as they pleased without building any sort of mixed use like they promised they would. The closest we got to "mixed use" is that a SunTrust bank opened up where the supposed condos were going to be. Nothing else was done.
In other words: We got screwed. The neighborhood has not improved one tiny bit. The surrounding area has not magically transformed into better quality stores. NOTHING. That corridor of Memorial Drive between Covington Highway, Columbia and Line Street is still just as ghetto as it ever was. The mall across the street has put some new paint on, but it's empty. Why? Because Walmart kills local stores, that's why. That Walmart paid its way into that location, local businesses and residents be damned. I'll never forgive them for that. Or for not upholding their agreement to build mixed use. Ditto for the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners.
Which brings us to Suburban Plaza. I've shopped there as long as I've lived here (more than two decades). I am a die-hard Big Lots shopper. While I agree that the mall is a bit shabby and the stores are off-price places and/or thrift, those stores being killed are owned by local people. Last Chance was tossed out of its previous location because the owners wanted an Indian mall. Now they are getting bounced from Suburban for a Walmart. As is the locally owned mattress company that we bought our mattresses from a couple of years ago. Not to mention the other shops getting bounced – all locally owned.
Might I point out the other Walmart is about three miles away? Do we really need two Walmarts within five minutes of each other? Really?
On one hand, it's a free country, and Selig Enterprises should be able to lease to anyone it wants. But the reality is that Walmart is killing a handful of local businesses just because it can. I do not buy the assertion that it's the only way to "upgrade" the mall. That is a lie. The way to upgrade the mall is to find some decent tenants and maintain the property, which Selig doesn't seem to want to do. I also reject the notion that another Walmart is what's needed when there's a huge one three miles away. I'm pretty sure the middle class soccer moms who live in the Medlock neighborhood can afford to drive three miles.
I was relieved to hear that Wally World would not displace my Big Lots, but I also shop at Last Chance and the mattress place, both of which I will miss. I find it repugnant that once again, Walmart will run roughshod over local merchants and even local opinion just because it has lots of cash to lay on the property owner.
It all comes down to the property owner having the board of commissioners in their pocket. Just like with the other Walmart, it was going to go in no matter what we locals had to say about it. It was a done deal. This one is a done deal too.
The only thing good I have to say about it is at least I'm keeping my Big Lots. I wouldn't shop at Walmart if it was the last store on Earth. Period.
This letter to the editor first appeared in the North Druid Hills Patch. Anybody can submit a letter to the editor by emailing Ralph.Ellis@patch.com.