Fowler nearly leapt from her seat in excitement if not for the lapful of beans she was stringing at the time.
“We need it,” Fowler said. “We need something on this end of town. Not many people flow through here like they used to.”
South Main Street has largely been left behind in the revitalization that has taken off in the rest of Waynesville, with crumbling streets and storefronts to match — not to mention three closed factories that employed 2,000 people as little as a decade ago. Fowler isn’t worried about the competition. She sells eggs that still have downy feathers clinging to them and heirloom tomatoes. She’ll even string your beans and shuck your corn.
“That’s something Wal-Mart won’t do for you,” she said.
Super Wal-Mart means more traffic past her produce stand, which is a good thing, she said. But more traffic could be a mixed blessing. The Wal-Mart in Clyde will close when the new Super Wal-Mart opens. The traffic congestion witnessed at the Wal-Mart in Clyde will be transferred to the new site in Waynesville. All that traffic could cause South Main Street to be widened.
“Three lanes would take us out,” Fowler realized. “It will help me until they start widening the road.”
If the road doesn’t get Fowler, rising property prices could. Land around the new development will suddenly become desirable, potentially spurring redevelopment of South Main Street. Fowler doesn’t own the land her produce stand sits on, and if Taco Bell or Quinzo’s takes an interest in the property, it’s unlikely Fowler could compete.
News of a Super Wal-Mart and Home Depot was news to customers next door at an Enmark gas station as well. Most welcomed the news.
“We do need a good Wal-Mart. I’m not against them coming,” said Sara Batey, who lives in the nearby Waynesville Country Club neighborhood.
When Batey heard the developers are seeking variances to the town’s land-use plan intended to preserve a small town character by requiring attractive building facades and well-landscaped parking lots, Batey wasn’t so pleased.
“They shouldn’t get any exemptions,” Batey said. “They should follow the same rules any other business has to. This is still a small town. There is a certain look and feel we would like to keep.”
A few minutes later, Donna Stephens, who also lives in the Country Club area, pulled up to the pump and expressed similar views. She liked the idea of a Super Wal-Mart so close to her neighborhood and thought it would have a positive impact on South Main Street. But she didn’t like some of the land-use plan exemptions.
“Wal-Mart does have a lot of money,” Stephens said, suggesting they could afford a nice building facade. “I don’t think that is too much to ask for. You don’t want something that big right in the middle of everything to be gaudy.” Stephens said the developer and the town should compromise.
Some were worried the town is being too strict.
“They’ll kill the deal if they aren’t careful,” said William Liner, who lives outside town in Ratcliffe Cove. “They better watch their Ps and Qs.”
Liner said the Super Wal-Mart and Home Depot should have to look nice, but the town goes overboard. Lewis Inman, a friend of Liner’s, said the design of the new Super Wal-Mart in Asheville was a good example.
“That one over there looks nice,” Inman said. Liner agreed.
Some were clearly in the “care less” category, like Charles Clark Jr. from Crabtree, who said he didn’t care how the new Wal-Mart looked. Clark worked at Dayco and said it was so run down you couldn’t lean against the walls for fear they would fall over.
Fowler, who runs the produce stand, didn’t care how the Wal-Mart building or parking lot looked either.
“It don’t matter to me,” Fowler said. “You don’t come buy my produce to look at my building. People go to shop.”
Instead of worrying about trees in parking lots, Fowler she would rather see someone address gas prices.
David Shuler, a long-distance truck driver who lives close by on Allens Creek, welcomed the development, hoping it would provide a long-needed boost for his end of town. But a couple of people expressed dissatisfaction with Wal-Mart for all the usual reasons.
“I don’t care for Wal-Mart,” said John McElroy of Bethel. “They put so many other people out of business.”
McElroy said the Cline-Bradley Ace Hardware could be hurt by the Home Depot, and the Dollar General and Ingle’s Supermarket in Hazelwood would be hurt by Super Wal-Mart. McElroy said the traffic will probably be bad, too.
Down the street at Cline-Bradley Ace Hardware, a customer was also lamenting the fate of the small hardware shop.
“Stores like this are doomed. It will put the mom and pops out of business,” said David Svetcov. Svetcov just moved to Waynesville from Charlotte, largely because he liked the community’s small town character. They don’t have hometown hardware stores that sell individual nails out of bins in Charlotte, he said.
McElroy said Wal-Mart is a necessary evil. The store provide low prices that benefit low-income families. But McElroy said this particular Wal-Mart is a potent symbol of the times — an abandoned American factory will be bulldozed to make way for a superstore selling cheap goods made in overseas factories.