Friday, July 23, 2010

Wal-Mart: The White Knight of Johnson City?

I've been watching a developing situation with a bit of bemusement.

I remember the days when Wal-Mart announcing a store building in your community resulted in protests.  Of course, as we learned recently from the Wall Street Journal, some of these protests were financed and otherwise aided by....hmmm, the competition.

Isn't capitalism wonderful?  (remember the old classic movie CasablancaRound up the usual suspects!)

Sorry for the sarcasm.

Now back to Johnson City.  Johnson City is not a thriving community.  I would say it is a dying community (just search my posts from last year on how it nearly ceased to exist as its own governmental entity) but I'd probably hear it from the locals. Still, few would disagree that its glory days were a long time ago.

So how did Wal-Mart get cast into the role of hero white knight?

Glad you asked.  Let's take a short trip down memory lane.

Years ago, Johnson City was an Endicott-Johnson company town. (Does that have anything to do with Johnson City being called Johnson City?  Umm, yes.) Endicott-Johnson manufactured shoes.   If you are of a "certain age" you may remember Endicott-Johnson or Father and Son shoes.   And it manufactured local jobs, lots and lots of jobs.  As employers went, Endicott-Johnson went way above and beyond.  If you have a 40 hour work week, you (in part) have Endicott-Johnson to thank.  If you know a native of Johnson City, they had family member(s) working for Endicott-Johnson.  It is a fascinating story, one I encourage everyone to read about.

Then came...well, its a long story.

Endicott-Johnson ceased to be American owned years ago, and it no longer manufactures any of its own shoes.  And, it hasn't had any facilities here for many years.

Now those factories, what are left behind of them, lie vacant and rotting, inhabited by....let's not go there.  Meanwhile, downtown Johnson City (which I travel through five days a week) deteriorates.  The key is, few people are going there to shop.  Some that go, go to gang-bang, but not to shop.  (this is true of so many other small city downtowns, I realize. Well, I'm a blogger, not a sociologist.)  It's (truth time, and the truth hurts) A DUMP.  A dump abandoned by time.  Oh, does it kill me to say that.

When I moved here 22 years ago I was told I could live anywhere in Johnson City, even downtown, and it would be somewhat safe.  How times have changed.

So here comes Wal-Mart.  Almost 20 years ago it rode into nearby Vestal (nearby, but on the other side of the Susquehanna River) and the next thing you knew, one shopping center arose on the particular road they chose to locate to.  Then another.  Then another.  Then another.....

...Taking local shopping from that other side of the river with it.

So now, Johnson City looks to increased traffic like a stranded motorist in the desert looks to water.

Let's see, it's over two years ago now?....Wal-Mart proposes a second area store, tearing down one of those factories.  Wow!  An eyesore gone.  And remember all those shoppers who abandoned our side of the river.  Well, they are going to come back, lured by Wal-Mart.   Aren't they? And guess what?  Maybe, just maybe, they will drive down Main Street, back into the welcoming arms of downtown Johnson City!  And you know the Weis Supermarket on Harry L. Drive (Harry L. who?  Johnson, of course!), which is next to dead and buried?  Well maybe the Wal-Mart customers will stop there too.  Why not?  How about the Oakdale Mall?

So, in a most amazing turnaround, local businesses on "this" side of the river are (in many cases-not all) welcoming Wal-Mart.  Or if not welcoming, not dreading.

The Johnson City Wal-Mart opened two days ago.

We'd all better hope there is water there, and not a mirage.

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