WATER VALLEY – The world’s largest public corporation and the biggest private employer with over two million employees plans to bring their “save money, live better” brand of retail to a little two-acre plot on South Main Street.
The Herald has worked since last Wednesday attempting to determine the identity of the company who had been making inquiries to city government about the property through engineering firms and others regarding environmental issues and zoning ordinances. The owners of the property, located on the east side of South Main Street at Frostland Drive, said they were unable to comment on the potential purchaser.
The Herald queried several companies that had been the subject of earlier rumors. On Wednesday Erica Jones, senior manager of communications for Wal-Mart, was contacted and asked if the company planned to build here. She replied, “While we’re always looking for opportunities to serve our customers, we have nothing to announce in Water Valley. Have a great day.”
Late Monday the Herald confirmed that the company was Wal-Mart Corporation and Tuesday morning Planning Commission Chairman Ken French said that he and Billy Humphreys, Zoning and Floodplain Administrator/Building Inspector for the city, had gone over the company’s proposal.
French said that Humphreys had received the document Monday and they had reviewed it Monday night and Tuesday morning. “I thought we were going to be asked to provide a variance for a part of it that wasn’t zoned C-2 (Neighborhood Conven-ience Commercial).”
Instead, he explained, the company was asking that the property be rezoned C-1 (Highway Commercial District). The new zoning would allow more flexibility than the original, which restricts grocery stores to a limited size and doesn’t allow supermarkets. He noted that the proposal emphasized a larger grocery operation.
“I thought it was going to be a mini-mart or a quick-mart. At least that’s what we thought up front. We didn’t even know it was Walmart up front. It was only known this week that it was going to be a Walmart,” French added.
Because the proposal requests that the property be rezoned, the planning commission will not be able to act on it. “It’s out of our hands,” said French. “Billy (Humphreys) is going to deny the permit until such time as it goes before the board of aldermen and they will have to make a decision.”
Mayor Larry Hart said Tuesday afternoon that he would be working with Humphreys to determine how the issue would be addressed.
Rumors that the retail giant was targeting Water Valley for one of their Walmart Express stores grew and spread rapidly over the past weekend prompting residents and business people to begin taking sides on the issue. Social media outlets – particularly Facebook – became a rallying point for forces opposed to the business.
Main Street businesswoman Alexe van Beuren, owner of the B.T.C. Old-fashioned Grocery, created a Facebook page, “Long Live Water Valley.” She wrote that Water Valley is under attack by Walmart Express.
Some of the page’s posts are the usual diatribe against Walmart and are from people with little or no connection to Water Valley. But, one of the more thoughtful posters was Bob Wilson, executive director of Mississippi Main Street and a frequent visitor here, who wrote that this was first Express that he knew of so close to Main Street. He noted that some towns have been successful in keeping out Walmart by requiring caps on square footage for retail. But, he added, that may not apply to the Express footprint.
Apparently Water Valley is not the only north Mississippi town to be in Wal-Mart Corporations crosshairs. Joel McNeece, editor of the Calhoun County Journal in Bruce wrote that his county appears to be the potential target for a couple of miniature WalMart stores. He said that representatives of Mossy Oak Properties have been working the past few months on trying to finalize deals on two sites – one in Derma and another just east of Bruce.
(Webmaster’s note: Comments about the Walmart issue should be directed to Letters To The Editor, North Mississippi Herald, P.O. Box 648, Water Valley, MS 38965. We will publish a limited number in the April 24 issue and would especially like to hear from those who haven’t been heard from in favor of the business. Letters must be signed and contact information provided before they will be considered for publication.)