Wal-Mart opens its doors with ribbon-cutting

 Store manager Brian Miller cuts the ceremonial ribbon as members of the Chamber and Wal-Mart store staff gather in support.  Don Ratzlaff / Free Press
Store manager Brian Miller cuts the ceremonial ribbon as members of the Chamber and Wal-Mart store staff gather in support. Don Ratzlaff / Free Press

Love it or fear it, the new Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market store opened its doors April 8 with a grand opening launch that drew about 100 people to its Hills?boro Heights location.

Under a canopy of clouds and with a chill in the air, store manager Brian Miller welcomed the gathering of city leaders, company representatives and the generally curious with words of appreciation for the reception the business has received during the construction phase.

?Everyone here has been extremely helpful and friendly,? Miller said. He also thanked the Wal-Mart organization for seeing and then developing his management potential after he began working at the entry level.

During her brief remarks, Hillsboro Mayor Delores Dalke said if she had told people a year or two ago that the nation?s largest retailer would build a store in Hillsboro, ?People would have thought I had lost my mind and needed to retire.?

Hillsboro Mayor Delores Dalke addresses the crowd of some 100 people who gathered for the grand opening of the Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market at 7:30 a.m. April 8. Dalke said the store is trying to be part of the community, and has joined the Chamber of Commerce. Later, two Hillsboro organizations received contributions from Wal-Mart totaling $2,500. Don Ratzlaff / Free Press
Hillsboro Mayor Delores Dalke addresses the crowd of some 100 people who gathered for the grand opening of the Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market at 7:30 a.m. April 8. Dalke said the store is trying to be part of the community, and has joined the Chamber of Commerce. Later, two Hillsboro organizations received contributions from Wal-Mart totaling $2,500. Don Ratzlaff / Free Press

Dalke said the company never asked for any financial breaks or special considerations after it announ?ced its intention to build the store. She also noted that several of the employees now working in the store are from Hills?boro.

Dalke said the business wants to be part of the community and has already joined the local Chamber of Commerce.

Prior to the traditional Chamber ribbon-cutting, Miller presented two donation checks on Wal-Mart?s behalf: one for $1,000 to the Families and Communities Together organization, and one for $1,500 to Main Street Mini?stries.

The program, which began with the flag salute, ended with the ?Wal-Mart Cheer? led by Miller with participation by local staff.

Divided path

Wal-Mart?s path from possibility to grand opening generated significant public interest in and around Hillsboro, both for and against.

Concerns about the store?s impact on the local economy surfaced soon after it was reported in March 2014 that Ben Hawkins, a land buyer representing an unnamed Fortune 500 company, had submitted a proposal to the city to buy 3.7 acres in Hillsboro Heights for a store that would sell fuel, groceries and pharmaceuticals.

Based on similar real estate activity in other smaller towns in Kansas, many speculated from the start that the ?mystery business? was Wal-Mart related.

In May, the issue seemed obsolete when the city received notice from Hawkins that he was withdrawing the purchase offer.

But less than two months later, Hawkins submitted an identical contract. The city council discussed it at its July 15 meeting, then agreed to submit a modified version of the agreement back to the agent as a counter-proposal.

Hawkins returned the city?s version after accepting most of the suggested changes. The council reviewed the proposal at its July 29 meeting, and eventually voted 3-2 on the advice of the city attorney, who said the city could face a lawsuit because as a public entity the city cannot legally reject a contract if it is substantially similar to previous land contracts it has accepted.

Over the ensuing weeks, several local business representatives participated in council discussions, stating they would be negatively affected by a Wal-Mart-related store.

The official announcement from Wal-Mart was issued Sept. 11 and attracted regional media attention. A story appearing on the Wichita Eagle website focused on the concerns of local grocers.

Dalke was quoted as saying the store would attract the attention of passers-by on U.S. Highway 56, and the city and county would receive local sales tax revenue that goes toward capital improvement projects.

In the corporate news release, Dalke emphasized the significance of having a local economy that would attract Wal-Mart to the community in the first place.

?We feel that this is recognition of the robust business climate that our city offers,? she was quoted as saying.

Later, the mayor told the Free Press, ?I do have real empathy for the businesses that feel threatened. We?re not trying to hurt anybody. We?re trying to encourage the future of Hillsboro?and if we hurt local businesses, that wouldn?t be for the betterment of our future.?