Wal Mart Causes Divide in Ashland
June, 3 years ago, a Wal Mart Superstore opened it’s doors in the Ashland area. Wal Mart faced protesters from Ashland businesses and civilians before it was allowed to do so.
Ashland Coffee and Tea, referred to as "Ashland’s Living Room," was one of the most adamant protestors against Wal Marts arrival. This coffee and tea café has been in Ashland for 10 years. It has strong ties to the Ashland community through its regular customers and its entertainment.
There is good reason behind its nickname because its yellow, orange, and red wall provides the illusion and warmth of a huge furnace, its antique tables, chairs, and couches give it a touch of home, and its chalkboard menus provide a 1950's soda shop tradition.
This shop offers Ashland an eclectic and inviting place to sit back and relax and for Randolph Macon students to study while sipping a gourmet beverage.
Ashland Coffee and Tea employee, 23 years-old Megan Prichard, has worked at Ashland Coffee and Tea for six years or since her freshman year in college.
She says that Ashland Coffee and Tea employees have a closely knit relationship, "We’re like family, coming in and visiting each other even on our days off."
During her six years working there, she was one of the civilians protesting against Wal Mart’s arrival into town. "Wal Mart comes in and takes over." Megan chooses not to shop there and show her support for the smaller businesses in town.
She also named the council members who pushed for Wal Mart to come to Ashland. Tommy Herbert, Lynn Wood Atkinson, Jim Moore, and Stew Reed, who was the only one against Wal Mart coming in.
Although most of these members wanted to bring Wal Mart in, they kept the protesting civilians in mind. Wal Mart’s location in Ashland is nestled off of Ashland Junction Road, instead of being directly on Route 1.
This appeased some of the protestors because the desire to keep the small town charm was recognized and the committee sought to not commercialize it which Megan says "happens when huge conglomerate businesses come into a small town."
Another protestor was Cross Brothers Grocery Store, owned by 48-years-old Kathy Waldrop, and her brother. This family owned business was acquired by Kathy’s father and the Hawthorne family in 1973. However, this small grocery has been in Ashland since 1912.
Kathy said, "Wal Mart has definitely affected our sales, they can sell products cheaper than we can buy them."
She also said that they are lucky because they have so many loyal customers, but that a lot of the people who originally petitioned against Wal Mart are not shopping with them anymore.
Williams Bakery is the newest of these three businesses in Ashland. It has been open in Ashland for five years, but it has two other locations as well.
The Bakery looks like a southern kitchen, with its quilts hanging from the walls and its antique furniture holding unique creations like their apple and peach pie candles, shaped like real pies.
Employee 48-years-old Karen Arbaugh, has worked for the bakery for four months now. Although originally a loyal customer, she needed a job there after her husband passed away.
She said, "This is a family run business and has been a god sent to me."
The Williams Bakery has existed for 30 years, and is now in it’s third generation of family ownership. Ronnie Williams is responsible for all the baked goods in their Ashland location.
Karen said that Wal Mart has not affected the bakery because "all of our baked goods are made fresh daily, and much of our business comes from custom orders like wedding cakes or catered events."
She said people prefer their baked goods over the prepackaged products that Wal Mart offers.
Although these small businesses protested against Wal Mart coming into Ashland, Wal Mart customers and employees are in favor of its arrival.
Lori Fortune, 44-years-old, is a customer service representative for the store. She has been working there for a little over two years and says, "I enjoy my job because I love to interact with other people." She also said she lives by the motto of "treating others as you want to be treated."
Lori says that this location gets plenty of business but is not as overwhelming as other Wal Mart stores in the area.
Wal Mart Customer, Terry Wilson said, "I love shopping at this Wal Mart because it is less crowded and much more accessible than the one in Short Pump."
Terry, like many other customers shops at Wal Mart for the cheap prices on groceries, but she specifically comes there for the good prices in their fabric department.
She said that she still shops at specialty stores for produce and baked goods but that overall their product is quality and a good bargain.
Cissy Washington also shops at Wal Mart. She likes Wal Mart because of its cheap prices and it’s close location to her house.
"I can get pretty much anything I need there so I don’t have to make 20 stops before I can get home, I also buy a new movie there every week because their prices are so reasonable."
Wal Mart faced opposition coming in but business has picked up at their location in Ashland. Many smaller businesses in Ashland have had to close their doors because they can’t compete with Wal Marts prices, but some still remain and continue to have a loyal customer base.
Wal Mart employees, like Lori Fortune, enjoy their job, and customers say that this location is the best one around because of it’s accessibility and discreet location.
Ashland’s small businesses say "we have to accept it, Wal Mart is here to stay."