NOREEN: A welcome mat for east-side Wal-Mart

BARRY NOREEN Updated: November 22, 2012 at 12:00 am • Published: November 22, 2012

You know the conventional wisdom about Wal-Mart, yes?

It goes like this: The megachain chews up small businesses and spits them out; it’s anti-union; it’s bad for communities.

Without challenging the conventional wisdom in general, it’s easy to see that a neighborhood on the east side of Colorado Springs wouldn’t agree with it. In fact, since a Neighborhood Market opened in August on North Murray Boulevard, a retail miniboom has occurred nearby.

A low-income neighborhood that was without a grocery store for six years now has one.

It’s a big deal being able to walk to a grocery store if you don’t own a car, so consider: the census tract south of Platte Avenue and Murray Boulevard is one of the city’s poorest, a place where many live in apartments and must walk to a grocery store.

A King Soopers once occupied the location, but it closed six years ago. The next closest grocery store is a mile and a half away.

Neighborhood Markets are the latest wrinkle from Wal-Mart Stores — a stripped-down version of a Supercenter that really serves only as a grocery store.

After the King Soopers closed, other small retailers dependent upon the grocery-store traffic fell on hard times; vacant storefronts appeared. It has taken only three months for a retail boomlet to unfold.

Three weeks ago, Michael Gebremichael opened Spring Creek Liquors across the parking lot from the new Wal-Mart. Was the Wal-Mart a factor?

“Definitely, no question,” Gebremichael said. “We like this Wal-Mart. It gives regular people a place to go.”

Gebremichael said he believes more customers walk to this grocery store than to others.

“Since we moved here, we’ve seen a lot of people walking in. This type of Wal-Mart, it’s good.”

Pamela Barnes opened Sammy’s Barbershop two doors down from the Neighborhood Market a week ago. The “grand opening” sign is still out front.

“This Wal-Mart is really great for this shopping center,” she said.

A dentist, O.J. Lucero, plans to open at the shopping center in December.

The Neighborhood Market’s impact extends beyond retail. At the far end of the shopping center is the Ruth Holley branch of the Pikes Peak Library District.

Karen Porch, who works on the customer service desk there, confirmed that more people have been coming to the library since the store opened.

“We’re happy to have a grocery store next door again,” Porch said.

Wal-Mart isn’t Gandhi, it’s a fierce competitor.

But there’s a neighborhood on the east side that’s happy to have it.

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