Greenville does not have a Walmart.
The argument against bringing Walmart into small towns has been a part of the Save Main Street Campaign. From the accounts of multiple residents in Greenville, it appears that Greenville was a destination spot for Walmart early on. However, Greenville resisted this decision, and Walmart went to Highland in March 2001. Since that decision, almost every small town store that was open in the 1990s has closed (minus food venues). Even the Globe Theater is new blood, being built in the early 2000s out of an antique store.1 There are 7 empty buildings on the square at the time of this article all that used to be occupied by small businesses. Saving Main Street by blocking Walmart has failed, or at least, it has in Greenville.
It was a noble vision to protect the square stores, but they have all withered with time. The square store owners banded together and fought against the growing giant from taking over yet another small town community. However, now, very few of those square stores that once pushed against Walmart still exist. The markets and department stores have collapsed, and they have left a sea of empty buildings in their place.
Now, Greenville is the starting point, not the destination, for consumers. The money goes north, south, east, or west as there is a Walmart within a 40 minute trip in any direction, all in different counties. Yes, there are four Walmarts right over the Bond County line. Although there are small grocery stores within Bond County, Walmart entices students with its low prices and a vast selection of products. Despite the annoyance of driving for roughly 30 minutes to reach one, Greenville residents and students make this trip every day. Some even visit a Walmart 4 or more times a week where they make purchases ranging from $50-$100.
So who goes to Walmart? 87% of Greenville University’s student body goes to a Walmart at least once a week. 14% go to Walmart 2-3 times a week and 3% go 4 or more times a week. These stats were polled from a group of 159 Greenville on-campus students. Just with the students polled, an average of $2,900 to $9,350 is spent every week at Walmart. That money is tripled when considering the entirety of the student on-campus population. Of course, the argument against Walmart is that the money is being moved away from the smaller stores to the big chain, yet the reality is that the lack of a Walmart is just taking the money away from the town completely.
Plus, the money does not stop at just Walmarts. Once in a different town, students jump on the chance to stop at other stores in the surrounding area. Highland, Litchfield, and Vandalia all provide multiple grocery stores, restaurants, and specialty retail stores as potential stopping points for Greenville students. From my personal experience, when I go into Litchfield, I make it a point to eat out since Litchfield has a plethora of choices. I am not alone as 58% of regular Walmart shoppers “occasionally” patron surrounding stores and 20% stop often. This is additional money leaving the Greenville community that cannot be measured, but its impact is huge as it is pulling money away from the town.
What can Greenville even do? Greenville could attempt to lure a Walmart as the median distance to reach a Walmart for rural American is 14.3 miles3. However, it would take some serious convincing as a large portion of the population has already agreed on driving 20 minutes or more for a Walmart. Greenville must find some sort of commercial draw to stop the exodus and become a center hub for people’s consumer needs. There are viable options for the town, but a serious look at the state of the local economy must be completed first. From there, we can begin to plan how to keep revenue within the county and town rather than allowing it to leave.
1Emily Lucia-Rose, The Globe Welcomes Paranormal Task Force, The Greenville Advocate, August 22nd, 2019.
2Joseph Bishop-Henchman, State and Local Property Taxes Target Commercial and Industrial Property, Tax Foundation, 11/20/2012
3Fettig, David, Thomas J. Holmes on Wal-Mart’s location strategy, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. March 1, 2006.