BENNINGTON -- The Walmart in Bennington will soon be expanding to feature a larger selection of groceries. But what effect will this have on other local businesses?
The expansion cleared its last legal hurdle in May, when the Mount Anthony Country Club dropped its two appeals of the project. The construction, which is tentatively scheduled to begin in the spring, according to Town Manager Stuart Hurd, will double the size of the current building. Bennington is already home to a Price Chopper, an Aldi, and a Hannaford in terms of supermarkets, as well as many smaller, locally-owned places to shop for groceries.
Natasha Littrell, owner of Crazy Russian Girls Neighborhood Bakery, 443 Main St., Bennington, acknowledges that it's tempting to do all of your shopping at once but that "we do a different kind of baking." She said customers go out of their way to purchase the bakery's bread. Many of Crazy Russian Girls ingredients are locally grown, and Littrell, and she pays her employees considerably more than Walmart, with a $12 per hour minimum salary.
Michael Norton, a representative of Hannaford Supermarkets, said, "Over the last 20-25 years, you've seen a lot of these superstores we find that we compete very well."
While noting, "Choice is generally good for the customer," Norton said that Hannaford's "Outstanding pricing, outstanding fresh food, outstanding customer service," and the variety that they offer their customers set them apart from their competition. According to Norton, Hannaford is constantly evolving to competition, and strives to offer more to its customers "in a third of the space to navigate," as a superstore like Walmart.
On the Bennington Banner's Facebook page, we asked our readers where they would shop for groceries once the renovations to Walmart are complete. The post received more than 125 comments, many of which echoed the comments of Honorah Wood, of Bennington, who said, "For me, it's all about the prices."
Dawn Dow, of East Dover, said "Depends. If it's cheaper than Price Chopper, yes."
George Winchell Sr., of Bennington, agreed, saying "With the economy the way it is people that have to feed their families on a 9 to 5 job will shop where it's cheapest. Even if it means hitting all three stores to get the best deals!"
Some, however, such as Amy Anselmo of North Bennington, were going to stick with the established Bennington grocers. "Die hard Hanny's fan," she said, "Love the people, the light, the space. I only go to [Walmart] if I'm desperate."
Antoinette Betit, of Whitingham, agreed, saying "Hannafords or Price Chopper. I find those super stores overwhelming."
Steven DeZalia, of Arlington, stated his loyalty simply, saying, "I'm a Price Chopper guy."
Many potential shoppers liked the idea of Walmart competing, but weren't sure how much better it would be than the current options.
"I'll stick to shopping mostly at Aldi's and Price Chopper, but will def[initely] compared prices and selection when/if the big Walmart opens. I hate going there now because of the limited selection [in every department] and poorly arranged checkout area," said Jenifer Prouty of Sunderland.
Suzanne Brown looks forward to being able to get all of her shopping done in one place. "Sorry for the little stores, but one stop shopping!" she said.
Many were concerned about the quality of the Walmart food, regardless of the price. "I'll stick with what we have," said Diane Brzozowski, "I've used Walmart groceries before. The meat and produce spoil super fast. They're definitely not fresh. And Aldi is still cheaper if price is the deciding factor."
"If it is all natural and somewhat local, like Cabot cheeses and butter, I wouldn't have a problem. Unfortunately, most of what they sell is processed foods, filled with artificial ingredients and high fructose corn syrup," said Audra Prandini.
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB.