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Walmart in Sylva was asking for the town board to grant them an exemption for a larger storefront sign. But instead of getting a pass on the existing ordinance, the town board decided to change the sign law as it applies to everyone.

Sylva town leaders once again have a public hearing on the docket to decide the fate of oversized Walmart signs, but are once again wondering whether representatives of Walmart will stand them up.

Walmart has asked Sylva leaders for a pass on local sign regulations as it prepares to replace its older signs with a new design and logo.

Ryan Scot Davis, 48, was charged with taking indecent liberties with a child following an incident at the Waynesville Walmart on Saturday, Nov. 24.

A split decision by Franklin aldermen to build a new $1.25 million ABC store at the site of a Super Walmart at the edge of town drew criticism and pleas this week that the plan be reconsidered.

“We cannot afford what you are proposing,” said Ron Winecoff, an insurance agent in Franklin, at a Monday meeting. “It is not the Taj Mahal, and we do not have to market it that way. It is another store, plain and simple.”

Waynesville’s ABC Board has not yet officially decided to build a second liquor store near the new Super Walmart, but the project will get a green light if the price is right, according to the board’s chair.

The board is still negotiating prices for a piece of property located behind Hardee’s along the entrance drive to Super Walmart off South Main Street. The decision to open the second store hinges on price negotiations currently playing out between the ABC board and the owner of the parcel.

Finishing on time and on budget, the Haywood County Department of Social Services and several other government offices will move from their deteriorating, cramped homes to the renovated former Walmart by mid-January.

The Walmart shell was purchased and renovated at a cost of about $12 million to house a host of county offices: the Department of Social Services, the health department, planning department, building inspections, environmental health services and Meals on Wheels kitchen.

Construction will be finished by Nov. 24, according to Dale Burris, the county facilities and maintenance director. But it will take another eight weeks to get some 200 employees moved in and their offices up and running, he said.

“We are very pleased with the progress,” said Mark Swanger, chair of the Haywood County Commissioners. The Walmart renovation is the “smoothest project I’ve been involved in,” he said.

The county commissioners Monday approved a request for additional funding — about $32,400 — to move furniture into the building once renovations are complete. The money will come out of the county’s general fund.

Between 55 and 65 subcontracted construction workers are on the job each day, Burris said. And, although there were a few hitches, as is usual with such projects, the contractor was able to identify and remedy any problems, he said.

The project stayed within the original estimated cost of between $12 million and $12.5 million.

The county purchased the building for $6.6 million. Construction costs totaled $5.48 million, Burris said.

The project included gutting the building, remodeling the entrance and replacing the old roof with new over-build, copper roof.

The roof “looks really good,” said Commissioner Kevin Ensley. “It looks expensive” because of the copper coloring.

The commissioners voted in January 2010 to purchase and renovate the old Walmart building. The current DSS building had been deteriorating for years, and by that time had peeling paint, water leaks, hanging wires and an aging elevator — as well as cramped work conditions.

Purchasing land and building a new DSS and health department building would have cost between $25 million and $30 million.

When Walmart of Franklin moves from U.S. 441 to its new location next spring, at least two — perhaps three — of the other businesses in Holly Springs Plaza will move right along with the retail giant.

That’s not a happy prospect for the strip mall’s nine or so remaining tenants. Those business owners are looking at working in a virtual ghost setting if new merchants don’t come in to fill the void of those leaving.

The Walmart Supercenter will be at the corner of Wells Grove and Dawdle Mountain roads, just off the U.S. 441 bypass on a 33-acre site.

“This place will pretty much be empty,” said Jordan Myers, an 18-year-old Franklin native who works at Cato in Holly Springs Plaza. Her job, via her employer, is making the shift with Walmart to the new site, along with Shoe Show, and, reportedly, Dollar Tree, though officials in that store declined to comment. “Maybe people will put some boutiques in,” Jordan said.

Maybe.

But that didn’t happen in Haywood County in November 2008 when Walmart made the move from Clyde to Waynesville to build a new super store. In Haywood County, Walmart left behind a huge, vacant building with an equally huge, vacant parking lot in front.

Finally, in early 2010, Haywood County’s commissioners decided to purchase the vacant shell to house the Department of Social Services and Health, which had long awaited a move from their aging facilities. The new county offices will cost taxpayers an estimated $12.5 million. A facelift of the building is under way now.

Franklin Manager Sam Greenwood said the soon-to-be-vacated building in Franklin is serviceable, and could possibly be repurposed for another company.

Maybe.

There is some talk about town that Ingles might acquire the shopping center, and build a larger grocery store to compete with Walmart.

“It’ll shut this place down,” predicted Irene Hughes of Walmart’s impending move.

The Franklin resident was overseeing a Toys for Tots collection drive from a site in the Holly Springs Plaza.

Hughes currently drives to neighboring Clayton, Ga., to a Walmart Supercenter there for groceries. Though she’s not a fan of the new Franklin site because it might cause traffic problems for two nearby schools and people making their way through the area, she readily admitted, “it’ll be more convenient than driving to Clayton.”

“And, it’ll mean more jobs, because they’ll need more people,” Hughes said. “But what about all these places that will be sitting empty? What will happen to them?”

Indeed.

“It’s great to be one of the retailers going, and not staying,” said Ali Travis-Bonard, assistant manager of Shoe Show. “I’m really looking forward to it — we have a space issue here.”

Unlike Hughes, Travis-Bonard believes Walmart’s site selection for the new store is “ingenious — because everyone needs to go for something at Walmart after school.”

Kim McCloud, who works for U.S. Cellular in Holly Springs, is one of the retailers staying when Walmart leaves. She, however, isn’t particularly worried.

“We have a steady base of customers, people who have been with us for awhile,” McCloud said. “I really don’t think it will hurt us.”

For Mary Edwards, the owner of Craft Collection in downtown Waynesville, news of a possible Michaels coming to town is devastating.

“Well, that’s the end of me,” said Edwards. “I’m small, so I can’t complete with big stores.”

Edwards is surprised Michaels would consider coming to Haywood County.

“I never thought they would come here. They might be bringing jobs but it will put all the small business owners out of business,” Edwards said. “I’ll have to close.”

Ray Fulp, owner of the small, independent pet supply store Dog House around the corner, was just as dismayed.

“I think it would close us up,” Fulp said after learning Pet Smart may be coming to town. “That’s sad, that’s sad.”

Fulp and his wife have been in business for 24 years. This had always been a fear of theirs.

“The way the economy is right now, with a big pet supply coming in to town, we couldn’t make it,” Fulp said.

Fulp, 61, said he’s not ready to retire.

“I guess I could go work for Pet Smart,” he said.

At 57, Edwards is not ready to retire either. As a struggling small business owner, she can’t afford to yet. But after 18 years of selling brushes, paints, inks, beads, scrap booking supplies, balsa wood and sundry other art and craft supplies, Edwards isn’t sure what else she would do.

SEE ALSO: Plans call for new Belk, a Michaels and PetSmart in Waynesville 

Customer service could be the saving grace for Edwards and Fulp as they prepare to go up against the big chains.

Ann Squirrel, a painter who has shopped at Craft Connection for two decades, said she wouldn’t quit coming.

Squirrel admits to making a trip to Michaels in Asheville every three to four months to stock up on things she can’t get from Edwards, but, “anything I need, I always come here first,” she said.

“Even though prices are a little higher, I would still come. She is so wonderful to her customers,” Squirrel said.

Sometimes customers will call ahead with an order and send their husbands to pick up what they need. Edwards will pull out everything they need and have it waiting on the counter.

“I have actually delivered stuff to people,” Edwards said.

One customer had an ankle replacement and couldn’t get out, so Edwards loaded up pecan resin figurines — which people paint as a hobby — took them to the woman’s house and lined them up for her to pick which ones she wanted.

It’s unlikely Pet Smart shoppers would find expertise at the chain store rivaling Fulp. Fulp knows his customers and their pets and takes the time to help them, such as if a dog has an allergy and the owner can’t figure out what it is.

Fulp’s wife, Sandy, operates a grooming business out of the store. It’s developed a loyal customer base for the retail side, and Melissa Leatherwood said she wouldn’t abandon them for Pet Smart.

“I would rather give local businesses my support than a chain,” she said, as she loved up her freshly groomed shih tzu emerging from the back.

When Best Buy came to town two years ago, also jumping on the Super Wal-Mart train, a locally owned CD store in downtown Waynesville braced for the worst.

“We definitely lost some business to Best Buy,” said Shawna Hendrix, general manager of the Music Box.

It was impossible to compete with the prices of the mega-music retailer across town.

“They can sell them for cheaper than we can purchase them from our warehouse,” Hendrix said.

They survived by offering what Best Buy doesn’t carry: bluegrass, country, blues, jazz, Indy labels and other music genres outside the confines of Top 40 pop. The store also diversified, adding clothing and other retail along with CDs.

When asked if it looked they would make it, Hendrix said the owner is too stubborn to give in.

Belk department store in Waynesville might be moving from its anchor spot beside Ingle's grocery store to a much larger and brand-new building beside Super Wal-Mart.A Michaels craft store and Pet Smart might also join the ranks of big-box chain stores at the Waynesville Commons development on South Main Street, according to building plans submitted to the town's planning office.

The new stores have been proposed for a 12-acre commercial site next to Super Wal-Mart that originally was slated for a Home Depot. When the economy tanked, Home Depot pulled out, and has been trying to off-load the tract.

While construction plans under review by the town call for an 85,000-square-foot Belk, the Waynesville store manager said it is still too new to talk about.

"The details haven't quite been published. It is still in the works," said Reasey Johnson, the general manager of Belk in Waynesville.

Plans were filed with the town by CBL & Associates, a commercial property development firm that has been marketing the site for Home Depot. There has not been a sale of the site recorded yet, and the tenants are not yet cast in stone.

"We have nothing official to announce regarding a prospective development in Waynesville," Matt Phillips with CBL & Associates. "We explore a number of opportunities; some that are realized and some that are not. We will be pleased to make an official announcement when we have actual information to share."

County economic development leaders have been working for years to bring development to the former industrial site. A sprawling, rusting, old factory was bulldozed to make way for the retail strip complex five years ago. But new stores have been slow to locate there because of the economy.

"This is what we expected to happened, but the unfortunate three year economic hiatus held us up," said Waynesville Mayor Gavin Brown, also a member of the county's economic development commission. "It is nice to see we are having nationally known businesses locate in the community. I'm not saying there aren't local suppliers of those same products, but it is nice to know Waynesville is recognized as a place to be."

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