WHITEHALL, Mich. (WOOD) — It’s been six months since a Walmart opened in the small town of Whitehall, north of Muskegon.
There was opposition to the retail goliath coming to the town of 2,700 and those who welcomed it with open arms.
As for the smaller grocery store less than a mile away, this rosy prediction: “It’s not a concern. We have to be aware of it,” said then Plumb’s/Great Lakes Store Director Tony Larson. “We welcome them to the community.”
Last month, the store closed and a couple of the 36 employed there remain to clean up.
Now, next door neighbor Shopko is liquidating its inventory, a process that will last through mid-January, according to a company spokesperson.
“I shop at Plumb’s all the time and Shopko once in a while, said Whitehall resident Wayne Thuma “It’s a shame, ya know, a lot of people knew this was gonna happen when Walmart come in and this is just the beginning, two stores right here and who knows what else, ya know?”
Asked if he is shopping there, Thuma answers: “Nah, I haven’t been there yet – I won’t go to that one at all.”
“We have small towns and there should be the small town stores,” he said.
Citywide, the impact of Walmart is being felt.
“I have heard from some downtown businesses that have had a direct financial negative impact,” said Scott Huebler, Whitehall city manager.
Nearby, there is a Montague Foods which carries groceries and a Meijer in North Muskegon, 10 to 15 minutes away, so Walmart is not the sole grocery option.
“No, not by any means, just another option,” Huebler said.
Some residents said the stores were already on their way out and Walmart was the straw that broke their retail back.
“Walmart probably did not help strengthen them of their longevity, but I think those two stores were struggling well before Walmart got here,” Huebler said.
Huebler said he believes that like other communities he talked to, business in Whitehall will adjust to the post-Walmart reality.
“From an overall community standpoint, we got the impression from Fremont that Walmart was, in the long run, beneficial to the community,” Huebler said.
In an email, the Shopko spokesperson would not address whether Walmart contributed the store’s demise.
A 24 Hour News 8 crew would have talked to Walmart representatives and customers Tuesday, but was kicked off the property.
On Wednesday, Walmart provided this statement from director of communications Anne Hatfield:
“Walmart is proud to be a part of the Whitehall Township community. Our store created 200 local jobs and generates significant local and state taxes. Statewide Walmart has collected more than $256 million in taxes and fees and paid $100 million in taxes for FYE 2017. We spend $3 billion with Michigan-based suppliers and support local nonprofits like Michigan Heritage Park and the Habitat For Humanity Restore Shop.”