As we walked into the new “market,” the racks and racks of bathing suits seemed oddly out of place. After all, it was early February. And after all, this was supposed to be a grocery store.
At that moment, we realized that we, and the residents of Greendale, the wonderfully iconic southern Milwaukee suburb, had been duped.
Greendale bills itself as “The Garden Community” and is a pretty darn nice place. And recently Greendale had been working hard to improve its retail situation with massive and expensive improvements to Southridge, which bills itself as the state’s largest mall.
In fact, the Greendale Village Board gave Simon Property Group, owner of Southridge, $10 million in 2011 to help finance the renovation of the mall, including enticing Macy’s to take over the long vacant Younkers space at the mall’s south end. They are also bringing in Chico’s and Ann Taylor Loft as well as making significant improvements designed to attract a more upscale clientele.
Which brings us back to the bathing suits. You might have heard that the US Bowling Congress abandoned their headquarters on South 76th St., right across the street from Southridge, in November 2008 to move to Dallas.
The site sat empty for three years, with no takers. The Greendale Village Board began to panic. Wal-Mart came in with an offer, the only offer. Greendale caved, pulled the wool over the eyes of their residents and signed.
The new store opened in January.
Theoretically, Wal-Mart was putting a grocery store in Greendale. That’s what everyone was told. Yet the actual facility is a downsized Wal-Mart with about 10 grocery aisles. As limited a selection as you’ll find in something that bills itself as a grocery store.
Step inside and you feel like you’re in a third-world country. The relatively modern exterior leads you into a space with really bad lighting, a discolored cement floor that looks like it was last cleaned in the '60s, a sparse selection of grocery items with few name brands, a meager produce section with moldy berries, no on-site bakery, no deli, no fresh seafood, and no fresh meat department in an area representing less than a third of the actual store.
The bathing suits, as it turned out, were only the tip of the iceberg.
Wal-Mart representatives stressed that this particular store would be a neighborhood store meant to service the community within a 2-mile radius. Based on our visit, we feel someone’s geography is just a bit off.
Greendale residents have been complaining since the Village Board passed the construction plan. They claim they weren't given the chance to vote on this because it was never put on a referendum. The Board evidently decided that since no other business wanted to build on the site except Wal-Mart, a referendum wasn’t needed. Just tell the residents we did it. Nice.
It seems a number of Greendale residents shared the Wal-Mart business model during the discovery phase with other communities to see what they thought. The response? "That won't happen here." It’s all the more shocking then that it happened in Greendale.
One resident summed it up quite nicely: “Now Greendale's ‘very own grocery’ store looks more like a bargain basement full of Wal-Mart crapola. We looked at exterior design plans that, while uninspired, seemed not as ugly as some other Wal-Marts. Well guess what? We now have one of those ugly Wal-Marts.”
I just don’t think Wal-Mart belongs in Greendale. The bottom line appears to be that Greendale sold its soul to the devil to ensure it maintained its tax base. And that’s as disappointing and depressing as our visit to the store.
And why does Wal-Mart feel compelled to put another store within just two and a half miles of their monstrosity on Layton and Highway 100, that they just spent millions to move seemingly a few yards, replacing my favorite golf range in the process? Why would you shop the meager store in Greendale when you can get a much wider selection at the Greenfield location?
Can you sense a corporate strategy here? Will Wal-Mart ultimately get their tentacles into every community in the metro area? Is nowhere safe?
Greendale isn’t. Nor is Southridge. In December, Mary Mokwa, general manager of the mall, said of the recent improvements: “This has taken Southridge to a new level.”
Unfortunately for Mary and the rest of the Greendale residents, the low-end "market" across the street will bring it right back down.
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