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Small town, big hopes: Shopping district sets sail, anchored by Wal-Mart
Question of the Day
Ken Woodard, Grundy’s flood-proofing project manager for the Army Corps of Engineers, said this kind of partnership is now used more readily by agencies like his, with the potential to save millions — even billions — of taxpayer dollars.
“We’ve seen that it can be done, that the corps can work with other agencies and work out agreements with them that result in cost savings,” Mr. Woodard said. “I think Grundy’s a huge springboard for that.”
In just over a year since Wal-Mart opened, a set of storefronts and two mixed-use retail and office buildings have gone up to house the kinds of shops never before seen in this part of the world: national chain retailers. Among the tenants are Cato, Rue21, Shoe Sensation, Factory Connection, GameStop and Hibbett Sports. Restaurants and a hotel also are planned.
No, it doesn’t compare to Tysons Corner in suburban Washington, but for a town that was buried in the mud of 1977, it marked the beginning of an era. For a generation, people had to drive out of town to shop — often an hour or more on the curvy mountain roads.
“Back before the flood, you would come to town and that’s where everybody met,” said Sharlene Stiltner a lifelong Grundy resident. “After the flood if you wanted to go shopping you usually ended up [more than 30 miles away] in Claypool Hill.”
Ms. Stiltner said Wal-Mart has brought that sense of downtown community back to Grundy — and the impact is huge when people come from larger towns such as Pikeville and Richlands to shop in Grundy.
“The flood, it devastated the town. It was sort of like our town was dying,” she said. “This makes us feel like we’ve come a long way.”
While controversy elsewhere sets urban renewal and Wal-Mart at odds, marrying the two has worked well in Grundy, Mr. Podlin said. For one, the new stores — which opened just in time to usher in the holiday shopping season — have been astounded to see record-setting sales.
“It’s helping one another,” she said. “In the end, all of us win.”
Mr. Podlin said the evolution of the Grundy project — over time with many partners — is influencing the approach to retail development as far away as Asia.
“We’re taking some of these same principles and thinking about how to apply them in Seoul, Korea,” he said. “Grundy has been kind of a very interesting laboratory for us to develop concepts and understand step-by-step what the elements are that make a creative project.”
Mr. Potter said the project has brought more than 300 jobs to Grundy. That number is expected to grow as the “first step” helps fuel the town’s broader economic development effort, which includes professional schools and ties with a regional effort.
“I think people are just so happy to have jobs in the area,” said Linda Childress, store manager at Shoe Sensation. “I was driving an hour and a half to work every day in Bluefield, W.Va.”
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