Janesville68.3°

Wal-Mart worries wane

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JAMES P. LEUTE
December 23, 2007
— More than a year after Wal-Mart opened a Supercenter and Sam’s Club in Janesville, predictions of traffic tie-ups, nuisances for neighbors and slumping sales for existing businesses haven’t seemed to materialize.

Motorists are moving, and retailers still are selling.


That’s due in part to concerns raised as the project snaked its way through the city’s approval process.


“All of the hullabaloo on the front end called attention to a lot of things, and we were able to address them,” said Brad Cantrell, the city’s community development director.


A few years after what some people say was the planning debacle known as the Pine Tree Plaza, the city waded through concerns over traffic, noise and aesthetics before the Wal-Mart project ultimately was approved.


Since the stores opened in November 2006, Cantrell said he has heard few complaints.


“We have a few drainage and storm water pond issues that we need to tweak, but nothing major,” he said. “There are some reports of trash blowing around, but when you operate a Wal-Mart or a Target or something of that size, you’re going to have some plastic bags floating around. We just work with the stores to have employees pick it up.”


Cantrell said the city’s traffic plan is working well, even exceeding early expectations. Throw in the aesthetics of the project, and Cantrell said city officials are pleased.


“The traffic plan coupled with the building, site plan, landscaping and the wall behind it all turned out very well, and it will set the tone for other developments out there,” he said. “You can really see the contrast between a Wal-Mart/Sam’s project and the Pine Tree development.


“It’s much better.”


Cantrell said because people got involved and voiced their opinions, city staff was ultimately able to give the council new rules and regulations to govern such a project.


“The public concern and the neighborhood input really helped us,” he said. “We were able to hold Wal-Mart’s feet to the fire and get some things that they wouldn’t have done had we not asked.”


Neighborhood concerns


Neighbors interviewed shortly after Wal-Mart’s opening last November said they were mostly pleased with the aesthetics of the project. Some who live behind the huge berm built to buffer neighbors east of the stores said the berm actually cuts noise and lights.


Post-construction traffic continued to be their main concern, primarily on Highway 26.


A particular concern centers on motorists who want to go north on Highway 26 after exiting Interstate 90. They must quickly merge left in order to avoid the right-turn-only lanes heading toward Sam’s Club.


And those turning left at Kettering must cross over three lanes of traffic.


City officials have said they’ll continue to monitor the traffic situation.


The Gazette made several attempts to contact neighborhood residents for this story, but was unsuccessful.


Impact on grocers


Many wondered whether the addition of groceries at both Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club would force one of the city’s existing grocers out of business.


But all five—Woodman’s, Pick ’n Save, Logli Supermarket and the two Sentry stores—are still very much in business.


Ken Riley, general manager of Daniels Sentry on Janesville’s east and west sides, said he’s optimistic with his stores’ sales for November and December, numbers he can compare to a year ago when Wal-Mart and Sam’s first opened.


Typically, new stores will get the “look-see” from customers of other stores. The new Wal-Mart and Sam’s certainly had Sentry customers checking them out.


“We’re starting to see some gains back,” Riley said. “We had a very good Thanksgiving and couple of weeks after that.”


Riley said his wholesalers have been impressed with how well Sentry has stood up to the new competition in town.


Phil Woodman of Woodman’s said his Janesville store lost some customers to Wal-Mart, but his sales have rebounded to pre-Wal-Mart levels.


“People driving from Janesville to Milton stop there because it’s convenient,” he said. “Before, they stopped at Woodman’s or they had nowhere else to go.


“I don’t really see it as a loyalty thing, it’s more a convenience thing.”


Woodman said the new Wal-Mart also took customers away from Wal-Mart’s other Supercenters in Beloit, Delavan and Whitewater.


The Woodman’s store in Janesville recently remodeled, which Woodman said was something the store does every eight years to better address customers’ needs.


“It really didn’t have anything to do with Wal-Mart,” he said. “Janesville was one of our last blue and black stores. There was a time when blue and black worked; now it doesn’t.”



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