Saturday, February 7, 2004

Wal-Mart plans Oxford megastore



By Jon Gambrell
Enquirer contributor

OXFORD - This college town soon could become the home of a Wal-Mart Supercenter.

City officials said the retail giant has proposed a combination grocery and department store for College Corner Pike near Todd Road, in the northwest outskirts of Oxford.

"There's not too much unexpected about this," said city planner Daniel Johnson. "City Council voted to rezone this area last year. Everyone should have expected something was in the works."

Oxford joins Lebanon, Milford, Alexandria, Deerfield Township, Harrison and Fort Wright as municipalities where Wal-Mart is either building or planning grocery and department store combinations. Some residents worry such superstores will bring increased traffic and noise, and force local businesses to close.

Two Wal-Mart Supercenters already are operating in Greater Cincinnati - in Aurora and Dry Ridge.

Johnson said the supercenter, which would include a gas station, would need roughly 30 acres.

Using the city's long-term comprehensive plan as a base, he said the supercenter could draw more businesses to the area, which holds Oxford's Square D plant and is surrounded by farmland.

"If Wal-Mart goes out there, the whole area will be under more pressure for development," Johnson said.

The college town has one Kroger store and a Wal-Mart, both along Locust Street near a cluster of shopping centers.

John Biggio, a regional manager of community affairs for Wal-Mart, said the corporation looked forward to offering an alternative for grocery shopping.

"We've been in Oxford for almost 10 years," he said. "We've seen our customer base grow and it was hard to ignore there are needs the current discount store doesn't provide."

If Wal-Mart receives permission to build, it would vacate its current location and work to put a "good tenant" in its place, Biggio said.

The corporation is tentatively scheduled to present its plans to Oxford's planning commission March 9.

If the commission accepts Wal-Mart's proposal, the plans would then be passed on to City Council for final approval.

Biggio stressed that Oxford, home to Miami University, had a lot of niche markets for a small business to survive, even with the addition of a supercenter.

"Oxford is unique due to the small merchants," he said. "But if you look around, few retailers would directly compete with Wal-Mart."

At Oxford Natural Foods, a small organic and natural food grocer on College Corner Pike, 23-year-old manager Nathaniel Walmsley said a Wal-Mart Supercenter could possibly increase the amount of business the store sees.

"We're out on the slow end of town," he said. "We haven't grown or expanded, we're a mom-and-pop kind of store. With the traffic flow ... it could an increase our business."




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