WHITEHALL TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — The new Wal-Mart near Whitehall opened for the first time on Wednesday morning to large crowds. Its long-term impact on the community remains to be seen.
The largest retailer in the country now has a presence in a community where some fought to keep it away. Wal-Mart officials said the store hired some 200 people to operate the new store.
The nearest locally-owned and operated grocery store is less than a mile away. Great Lakes Fresh Market Store management has been bracing for Wal-Mart’s impact for some time.
“It’s not a concern. We have to be aware of it,” Great Lakes Store Director Tony Larson said. “We welcome them to the community.”
He admits that his store may not be able to compete with the well-marketed low prices for which Wal-Mart is known.
“Our game isn’t the price,” Larson said. “You have to know what the customer wants and you do that by talking to them.”
Larson said the president of the company that owns Great Lakes is in the store almost daily and believes customers feel the difference.
Dennis Wilson has shopped at Great Lakes, which was formerly a Plumb’s store, for years.
“It’s kind of a hometown type of thing,” he said while leaving the store Wednesday.
He admits, however, that he’ll be checking out the Wal-Mart down the street.
“Let’s face it,” Wilson said. “Wal-Mart’s got a better price, I’m sure, and money talks.”
Larson, the store director, said he believes the stores can share the area’s customer base and both thrive.
“Everybody’s looking for different things where they shop,” Larson said. “So definitely they can coexist.”
Wal-Mart executives are clearly trying to go head-to-head — even on the level of those looking to buy local. The store touts its supply of “locally sourced” fruits and vegetables, West Michigan craft beers and its stock of kayaks produced by Muskegon-based Sun Dolphin.
Customers seemed to welcome Wal-Mart enthusiastically. The parking lot was packed for much of the day Wednesday and there was a constant flow of customers coming and going.
Barb Grow, who lives in Rothbury, said she’s excited to have a Wal-Mart closer to home.
“I think it’s great,” she told 24 Hour News 8 after she loaded her truck full of groceries.
She said she wrote to Whitehall Township leaders to counter the early opposition to the store coming to the area.
“These little towns, they haven’t been little towns since I was in high school and that was a long time ago,” Grow said.
The Whitehall Wal-Mart will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.