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."