A letter that was released to the media and city council, this morning. Comments welcome
Is Walmart set to move into the Centre on Barton?
Lately, citizens and bloggers alike in our community have been talking about the loss of Made in Canada products or Protectionism where Free Trade is concerned. I read stories like these and then I think about a Walmart moving into my neighborhood, and it saddens me.
Is this what we want OUR Hamilton to be when it grow's up? A city full of Walmart's and way too many Tim Horton's? Next, Walmart will be announcing the opening of a Canadian corporate headquarters in downtown Hamilton.
Are these the kinds of jobs we want to replace Stelco, Siemens, Lakeport, and the likes? Do we want seven Walmart stores (five existing and two proposed including Winona), that do very little to support the manufacturing industry in North America, saturating our market until there is no competition. No James Street North's, Locke Streets, or more locally to this latest proposed development, Ottawa Streets? Surely the opening of a Walmart's doors at the Centre will nullify any dreams of trying to revive Kenilworth Avenue as has been accomplished with James Street North and Ottawa Street over the past few years.
Two of America's top retail stores are about to sit almost side by side at the end of two historic shopping districts in our community. Our answer? It looks clean. It looks so much better than what Centre Mall had amounted to. We lost the oldest (the first), covered mall in North America to progress in the form of Big Box. Then we lined Barton street with Banks and stores with their rear-ends facing passerbyer's. Now Walmart is set to move in, Zellers (once 'Proudly Canadian), will be branded as Target shortly and of course, we can't have a corner without our beloved Horton's and a slow-through that is surely going to wreak havoc in the south/east quadrant of that enormous chunk of heat emitting, un-walkable, driving store front to store front, parking lot. Thankfully, the lone Canadian shopping centre within this complex is making some positive moves to retain some sort of Canadian presence.
Do I sound a little negative? Yes, I guess I do. I was learning to live with what this historic chunk of land had amounted to with Ottawa street thriving anyways but then the Hamilton Spectator mentioned 'WALMART' and 'Ottawa Street' in the same sentence and it was like someone fired off a gun in the air and proclaimed 'Corporate America is coming. Corporate America is coming.' Are we not learning from US Steel? Is Walmart really any better for our economy than US Steel at the end of the day, simply because they are quietly playing by the rules?
Maybe as laws are written, there is nothing we can technically do but it doesn't mean we have to like it. It seems to me, that Walmart is one of the most contested retailers or businesses in general, attracting controversy often when they announce plans to enter communities - Winona being a recent local example of this.
You and I all know, that we could spend months online gathering facts and we would be blown away with the thousands of reasons why we should not be allowing this corporation into our backyards. With the desire for progress, comes risks. Walmart is progress desperation in my books.
I wish I had been involved in my community when Centre Mall was proposed to be demolished. Instead, I simply took tonnes of pictures of the way it once was, including capturing the Sears restaurant my grandmother used to take me to when I was a child. We could walk across the CN ROW through the opening off McNaulty to go shopping at the Centre. I know things change as the world evolves. Change is needed, but is this really the change we want or the future we envision of a city wrapped in a gorgeous escarpment, a City of Waterfalls, surrounded and filled with lakes big and small, and an attractive amount of beautiful conservation lands?
Some argue that a Walmart will attract more people from farther away, including Redcliff retail vice-president, Don Burton, but one could argue that Ottawa Street, Gage Park and it's festivals, and the soon to be re-born Ivor Wynne Stadium, are reason enough for hundreds of thousands to come to our neck of the woods for various events throughout the year already. We don't need a Walmart to do this for us. How about a movie theatre? That is likely the number one reason people in our neighborhood leave the area - to see a movie as everything else we need, is right here already.
I truly believe there are ways or us to ‘save’ if you will, what has happened to date at the Redcliff managed Centre on Barton in the transformation of our historical Barton Street lands, into the Big Box development that it has become.
1. Politely decline Walmart's request to open it’s doors at Barton and Ottawa.
2. Not to permit a drive-through for the Tim Horton's planned to open up along the Kenilworth side of the complex for the sake of other tenants, and pedestrian and vehicle traffic alike.
3. There is possibly room for many more sidewalks - covered preferred, within the grounds of 1227 Barton St E. Maybe bicycle racks at various points throughout, a turn-about for transit as exists at Eastgate Square (also managed by Redcliff). Maybe using some central area within the complex designated as green space, with a playground and resting spot with sitting areas above and beyond what was created in the Food Pavilion, as once existed in the form of benches along the hallways of the former Centre Mall.
One could argue that aside from the condo apartments on Ottawa Street on the Centre grounds, you could put a seniors residence where the old Canadian Tire once was and if we make the Centre much more pedestrian friendly, we give these residence many options from close proximately to transit, to very welcoming street facing storefront shopping along Ottawa Street, or a well pathed box complex that almost creates the feel of a sidewalk-facing shopping environment similar to Ottawa Street, but with different shopping options. Source, Staples, Canadian Tire, Boston Pizza, versus Button Pushers, The Millionaires Daughter, Vaccum Repair shops, and Buckey's, Poco Loco's or Cafe Limoncello's. It wouldn't be about one experience being better than the other - just two different experiences for two very different styles of shopping, yet both being able to tout - with changes suggested above, a pedestrian an public transit friendly experience.
As the Centre stands now, before Walmart and before Tim Horton's drive-thru's, there is potential and not as much of a threatening environment to local businesses - just a different type of shopping experience. Walmart and Tim Horton's look to demand attention, create large amounts of traffic for those looking for one stop shopping and a coffee on the drive in and out.
I know I sound very ungrateful for how Redcliff has bottom line, 'cleaned up the neighborhood', but I beg of Redcliff and I beg of our local political representatives, to sit down and talk about how much of that property really needs to be leased to cover the bottom line and make a handsome profit? I know it is really none of my business how much anyone makes or how much is too much or how privately owned property should be developed, but I ask as a life-long resident of this city and as a concerned citizen who wants to see my city grow in the right direction, is there any bend to future development plans? Is there a way to meet the sales needs of Redcliff, without the likes of US Steel-type companies that are driving away our higher paying manufacturing jobs?
Is there room to more creatively develop that land to better fit into the community and embrace the history of those lands and what is happening on the 2nd Best Street in Canada as deemed by the Canadian Institute of Planners?
Not that I am a planner or a businessman, but I would think your retailers would do that much better, if we can all work together to find a way to turn the Centre on Barton into something special - not just another big box development. I am not sure if it's too far into development to think about this now, but as someone who has only been recently involved in his community to any degree for the past year or so, I must now ask the question before Walmart barges in. Before you can't move for traffic on the south/east side because of drive-thru traffic. Yes, the banks all have drive-thru's but when is the last time you have seen more than 3 or 4 cars lined up in a bank drive-thru? One only need to travel up and down Kenilworth Avenue, to see the dangers and inconveniences that Tim Horton's in-car experience creates in the communities they set up shop in. Let's also not allow Horton's to call the bank drive-thru card like they did in Binbrook. They aren't one in the same.
I know the data above is mostly speculative rather than substantive data, but sometimes things that don't feel right in our hearts, far outweigh the factual reasons why they aren't right. The factual data exists and it's at our finger tips like it's never been before. I could obtain and compile that data but seeing as though the ground is already clear where Canadian Tire once stood, I needed to let my stand on this proposal known before it was too late.
This is an emotional outcry from a resident living in and having spent much of my childhood, around the Centre Mall district. This isn't what I want to see become of my community. Ward's 3 and 4 are making great strides. Let's not take a step back. Please.
If it is too late; too late for everything that I have suggested above, than perhaps we can force Walmart's hand like was accomplished at the Brant and Fairview store in Burlington, with a request for the exterior facade to comply with neighboring street-facing businesses. There were quite a few work-arounds required before Walmart could move in in to the Fairview location, and that store was also contested by local citizens - fighting namely the increase in traffic. In the end, I believe all those requests were met. I guess making these types of demands is a good way to see how much a retailer actually wants to move into a certain location - especially if at the end of the day, our preference be that they not move in at all.
No, I am not proposing Walmart build a big green building with no windows to simulate a steel factory. I am thinking more along the lines of encouraging Walmart to look deep into their past - at their roots. Like some 60 years into their past to the origin of (Sam) Walton's 5-10. (see photo's attached) - (We have posted one of these photos)
The store could have a double-sided storefront design. One side butting up against Ottawa Street as a continuation of the shopping district, and the other opening onto a covered walkway connecting the rest of the Centre development. It would be called Waltons 5-10. Have window decals, awnings, and street/curb facing windows like the old-style department stores. It wouldn't offer food aside from say a 50's style diner off one side perhaps. No car related products aside from knick-nacky items, and no drugstore type products aside from cough drops or the likes. It would not directly look to compete with Metro, Shoppers, Canadian Tire East Hamilton Radio, or the textile aspect of the shopping district itself. At least the staple products of these stores. There is nothing wrong with a little competition of course, but not to the level of it becoming threatening to surrounding businesses unless those business are trying to gauge their customers of course.
This store would not be just a visitor's centre as I believe the original 5-10 is in Bentonville, Arkansas is, but would serve as a smaller version (perhaps even smaller than their proposed 88-89,00 sq ft at the Centre location), and could be marketed as a 'division of Walmart'.
Waltons 5-10 would be the Canadian counterpart to Sam Walton's original store in Bentonville in the US. The place would exhibit the early past of the corporate giant, bringing them down to size in Canada and right here in Hamilton - encouraging the Walton family to take a long hard look at their roots. Where it all started, and how grasping their past could possibly re-create their image in cities looking to embrace their deep-routed history.
I am sure much of what I have written seems like a pipe dream. If however, Burlington can force something that from all the Walmart's I have seen north and south of the border, is out of the ordinary, than with the history surrounding this community and the history we are embracing over in the stadium district as we rebuild our 83 year old tradition at 75 Balsam Avenue North, why can’t we express our desire in furthering this historical theme going forward in the east and west quadrants of Wards 3 and 4?
I am surely not the person to sell this concept to Walmart or design it, but if we have absolutely no choice but to let Walmart in (which I think would be a day equally as sad as the one in which the walls of Centre Mall started coming down), than how can we encourage change in the way that store is developed, as other communities have done? What could we start in Hamilton, if we encouraged Walmart to build a Walton's 5-10 store and forego the big signs and typical logos and markings, with the words of their ancestry with nothing except say a red Walmart 'sunburst' symbol, on the windows of the storefront(s). Maybe then that little symbol would be a true sign of 'eco-friendliness'. After all, isn't smaller greener?
At the end of the day, I won't hide behind the fact that our family shops at Walmart from time to time as well. We are a young family in our first house, making payments on our first family car, running a home daycare until our girls are both in school full-time. We need to price shop, but I try to encourage our family to really think of the actual cost of including Walmart in those price shopping decisions. What can we do without, to do our best to shop locally and support local small business which must be 10 times more desirable for our local economy, than what we feel places such as Walmart bring. We will never be able to revive streets like Kenilworth and Barton - to be able to distribute products along a shopping district in many stores, when we build 90,000 sq ft stores in one location. We need to not support questionable labor in countries like China in the name of ‘Free Trade’. We know this. All of us on this thread know this. Technically, Walmart is following the rules I guess but I think we need to let them know at least, that we are not all that happy with their business practices. Those in their country of origin aren't all that keen on their business etiquette either.
Bottom line, if we have no choice but to open our land for the development of a 6th Walmart in Hamilton, can we at least not allow them to walk in and set up shop - business as usual, and instead firmly state our displeasure in their business being placed at the foot of Ottawa Street - a business that represents the opposite of what Ottawa Street is about?
I thank you all very much for your time.
Larry Thomas Pattison Jr