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Letter to the Editor: Walmart On Memorial Didn't Help My Neighborhood

A Decatur resident writes in about her own experience with a Walmart and her thoughts on the retailer's expansion into North Decatur.

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.

Quonisha Nichole April 20, 2012 at 03:03 PM
1st off...did u just call line st "ghetto"???? I dont think you really know what ghetto is?. Because nothing in Decatur is ghetto. If you think that is ghetto, then you have NEVER been to the city of Atlanta! and just because someone is less fortunate than you, doesnt make them GHETTO!
Meg Clark April 20, 2012 at 03:12 PM
Thank you SO much for writing this-- I've been waiting to hear from someone who experienced the Wal-Mart invasion first hand. I hope that more of your neighbors who feel the same way can throw out their 2c and help us keep W-M out of Suburban Plaza!
Maureen Meadows April 20, 2012 at 04:37 PM
You are contradicting yourself when you say this is a free country and the property owners should be able to lease to whomever they want, and then complaining that the government is not listening to people who want the property owner's rights restricted. If I owned a strip mall, I would certainly not want people telling me how to negotiate my leases. I would much rather a different store was going in also, or no change, because that suits me; but really what suits me is completely irrelevant. In my opinion, the best way to handle this is just not to shop at Wal-Mart. HOWEVER, they are targeting Emory students in moving there, no? Why no organizing at Emory? I would think the student population would be quite open to listening to these arguments and communicating to Wal-Mart that Emory students will continue to take their business to Target if a Wal-Mart goes in at Suburban.
Nick April 20, 2012 at 06:09 PM
I'm new to inflammatory opinions, what does "ghetto" mean?
Ms. April 20, 2012 at 07:13 PM
It's code for black
Ms. April 20, 2012 at 07:16 PM
"The mall across the street has put some new paint on, but it's empty. Why? Because Walmart kills local stores, that's why." What were the names of the stores that were in there before the Walmart arrived? How long after Walmart opened did they close? Thanks.
Deanne April 21, 2012 at 12:24 AM
Angela- A few quibbles: Most of the stretch of Memorial you mentioned has had sidewalks and attractive street lights added. Just past the Memorial/ S. Columbia intersection (also improved and with upgraded pedestrian crosswalks) are Aldi and Zaxby's, both built after Walmart. Belvedere Plaza has added CW Price and Hibachi Grill & Buffet, and it's stayed tenanted in tough economic times (as have the two mini strips right beside Walmart). While this is your letter to publicly express your thoughts, I just want to make sure readers know that Walmart hasn't negatively impacted the businesses around it.
Deanne April 21, 2012 at 12:26 AM
Slim- It's a Letter to the Editor. Are you saying that Angela should be restricted in expressing herself?
Quonisha Nichole April 21, 2012 at 01:24 AM
Im so glad that someone agrees with me! I still dont understand what all the fuss is about. someone pls explain
Randy April 21, 2012 at 03:16 AM
Is this definite? Are we for sure losing Last Chance Thrift Store??
reelmind April 21, 2012 at 11:29 AM
If the Walmart is built at Suburban, Last Chance is gone from there as the 149,000 square foot Supercenter will take that half of the mall that includes the parking area. There will only be handicapped spaces for parking outside, the rest is underground parking for the Walmart. This Walmart is approximately 9,000 square feet bigger than the Farmers' Market. Scale all wrong in my opinion. So yes, Last Chance is gone from Suburban if Walmart comes.
Cindy Livingston April 21, 2012 at 01:10 PM
I also went through the hoopla about the walmart on Memorial. We were dead set against it. The process was just as described by Angela. Walmart bought their way in and shoved it down our throats. I learned in the process that the CEO of Dekalb County has tremendous power to do as s/he wishes regardless of what the commission decides. I have to admit, however, that the result has been less awful than I anticipated. We live on Clarendon and I expected MUCH worse traffic, walmart bags strewn up and down the street, etc. It has not happened. In fact, if the only two choices were a walmart or a big empty building, I choose walmart. My concern at this point is that walmart has an infamous history of abandoning one store when they build a new one nearby. Seems likely to me that this is what we will be looking at before too long--a new walmart in Suburban and an empty building on Memorial Drive.
Maureen Meadows April 21, 2012 at 01:46 PM
Last Chance = "Gone from Suburban" not "Gone from the Avondale-Decatur area"
Oakhurst Curator April 21, 2012 at 02:38 PM
Yes Deanne. "Ghetto" is racist rhetoric. Professional journalists edit for propriety all the time.
Michael Goettee April 21, 2012 at 02:45 PM
I won't enter the argument: Walmart good or bad, but I've noticed what Deanne noticed about the area around the Memorial Drive Walmart. It's been sprucing up steadily since Walmart went in. We were discussing that in my home just last week. Whether we need another one at Suburban Plaza or not isn't my point, but rather some truth in the description of the area surrounding the Memorial Drive store. The near dead shopping center it replaced was no joy to be near.
doug fortenberry April 21, 2012 at 03:51 PM
As a resident of Avondale Estates I experienced the development of the Memorial Dr. Walmart and the potential impact on our community. At that time opposition was significant, however the threat of traffic, trash, crime, unfair labor practices, etc.... never materialized. The entire area around Walmart has improved, no one has been forced to shop there, and hundreds of jobs have been created. Also would like to dispell a myth about small retailers, Do you really think they provide a higher standard of products, salary, living, insurance, retirement than WM? best to you ...your friend in the Ghetto.
Deanne April 21, 2012 at 06:13 PM
Slim- Oh, I agree that Angela's use of "ghetto" was offensive (and untrue). I just don't think it's a blog editor's job to protect folks from themselves. If it's not profanity, print it, and let the chips fall. Here, we gained an insight into Angela's thinking, and perhaps Angela's now looking within after finding herself judged back. (You may be a tad rigid in applying your journalistic rules. Community blogs are meant to share news and topics of interest in a relaxed format. They're wonderfully helpful, and they encourage folks of all backgrounds and ages to engage in discussion. It's for the person(s) in charge to decide how tight they'd like to hold the reins. Of course not every blog's a good fit for every person, but when you do decide to stick around, it's up to you to adapt to the format-- otherwise, you'll end up being the person who's revealing a less flattering side than intended.
Oakhurst Curator April 21, 2012 at 07:33 PM
Deanne-isn't patch journalism with an editorial advisory board? If it holds itself up to the same standards as other news outlets, then why shouldn't the editor edit offensive comments like "ghetto" in the context where it was used? If I call you a lilly white Medlock area soccer mom in a letter to the editor, would that be as correct as describing a mostly Black area with low-income residents as "ghetto"?
Deanne April 21, 2012 at 08:07 PM
Slim- I've shared my take, but here's one more: Since Patch disturbs you so much, it seems like-- well, unless you've been appointed community blogs monitor or put in charge of dead horse beating-- you should probably just stop reading Patch.
Deanne April 21, 2012 at 08:10 PM
Quonisha- I definitely agree with you! I shop over that way regularly (and have for a gazillion years), and it's been cool to see that Walmart's reenergized things businesswise. With all the attractive streetscape improvements and the good things going on in neighborhoods, y'all are really on a roll! :0) The best way to get a feel for things is to check out the other write-ups on here and N. Druid Hills Patch. (Decatur Metro too.) You can find them by plugging in Walmart or Suburban Plaza in search box. (Patch's is on the top blue bar's right side where magnifying glass is.)
David D April 22, 2012 at 02:41 PM
Thank you, Doug F. The opponents of Wal-Mart at Suburban Plaza, using the misnomer of Good Growth Decatur have tried to use arguments about traffic, crime, ULPs, etc. to mask their naked hatred of Wal-Mart. Any development of Suburban Plaza will raise traffic issues. What the group distorts is the fact that while Suburban Plaza got steadily older and 'tired', they didn't organize earlier to work with Selig to find new tenants. It never mattered to them that many of the businesses at SP didn't offer living wages insurance or retirement plans. The entire opposition looks more like a campaign against Wal-Mart and Selig. This is to say nothing about the appearance of covert racism and idiotic implications that the developers paid off County officials. I think the DeKalb Commissioners should launch an investigation into these Good Growth leaders and pursue legal action for libel.
Steve April 24, 2012 at 01:41 PM
From the Saporta Report: http://saportareport.com/blog/2012/04/decatur-intown-hardware-survive-wal-mart/
Deanne April 24, 2012 at 10:31 PM
Revisiting this (since Slim and I derailed it below): I really think Angela meant to put down the area, not the people. Her dismissal of the new Sun Trust seems to indicate she places value only in what would draw her over, and a bank (to her) is a yawner. Her not giving props to the other good things happening in the vicinity underscores that if it doesn't impress her, then it doesn't matter. Still offensive, but not as personally hurtful.
Deanne April 24, 2012 at 10:33 PM
I was curious about what happened to Memorial's mixed use plans, so I poked around. It's still a mystery, but it isn't Walmart that didn't deliver on promises. The condos were to be built by Capital Partners: http://www.crossroadsnews.com/view/full_story/1446655/article-Wal-Mart-plans-back-on-schedule http://www.crossroadsnews.com/view/full_story/1448296/article-Demolition-to-make-way-for-Wal-Mart-begins?
Deanne April 30, 2012 at 07:20 PM
* More than one developer was involved. The other related links are interesting too: 12,000+ applicants for that store when it opened, community grants, Ga grown food, store exceeded projections, a GGD proclamation sponsor mentioned as a fantasy spender of other folks' money...

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