ST. ALBANS — On Oct. 16, 2013, Walmart opened its doors to much fanfare, chanting, politicians, local celebrities and excited shoppers who waited in line for hours and even overnight to enter the store the first time.
Wednesday afternoon as shoppers casually pushed carts in and out of the store, chatted in front of its doors and loaded their cars with merchandise, the big box store 10 years in the making had its first anniversary pass by largely unnoticed.
“Has it been that long?” asked Erika Wiggins, of Fairfax, who was at Walmart Wednesday with her family.’
Walmart did have a small celebratory employee rally inside the front doors on Thursday and a female shopper was heard asking a store associate, “What’s that all about?”
Entering the town
According to local municipal officials and law enforcement, Walmart hasn’t made as large of an impact on the town’s culture or crime as expected.
“It’s been remarkably quiet,” said St. Albans Town Manager Carrie Johnson. She said that the town offices have received very few complaints or questions about the store – something she’s taking as a good sign.
“I haven’t noticed anything too extraordinary yet,” Johnson said. “I feel when very few people are complaining about something it’s running as well as we can expect it to.”
Local law enforcement, too, hasn’t seen as much activity at Walmart as predicted, though a shoplifting incident and a discovery of dozens of marijuana plants growing outside the store are noted on the police log over the past few months.
“I keep a running tally on the incidents there,” said St. Albans Police Department chief Gary Taylor on Thursday. “It has not affected [us] as dramatically as we may have anticipated.”
Taylor said he thought that was due to the store’s lack of an active loss prevention system – police could receive more calls if the store was keeping track of more thefts. For right now, Taylor said activity around the store has been pretty light.
“To date I don’t feel like the department has been overtaxed,” he added
Walmart was contacted several times, but did not provide a comment by press time Friday. Burlington developer Jeff Davis, who brought the store into St. Albans, could not be reached either.
On the economic side of things, St. Albans Town has benefited from sizeable municipal taxes from the 147,000-square-foot store. According to chief lister Leslie LaRiviere, Walmart paid $215,888.92 in real estate taxes this past year, with about $173,000 going to the state in education taxes and about $43,000 to the town.
In 2005, Economic & Policy Resources, Inc., which was hired to study the store’s potential impact, projected the store would do $59.6 million in sales annually.
Walmart also paid close to $14,000 in personal property taxes, meaning St. Albans Town collected more than $56,000 in tax revenue from the store.
“There are benefits,” said Johnson.
St. Albans Town also implemented a one percent local option tax beginning in July after voters approved measure on Town Meeting day in March. The one percent tax, collected for future large infrastructure projects to be voted on by town residents, is added to items that already have state meals and rooms, alcohol and sales taxes applied.
According to town officials, the local option tax was estimated to bring in $385,000 per year with a large percentage coming from Walmart. The first fiscal quarter for local businesses just ended in September, but according to Johnson, Vermont’s Department of Taxes and St. Albans Town won’t have data on the tax earnings – including those from Walmart – for a little longer.
“[The Department of Taxes] wait[s] for all of the businesses to file their taxes,” said Johnson, pointing out that they had until Wednesday, Oct. 15, to do so. “We’re not keeping it a secret. We just don’t have any of the information yet and I don’t think the state does either.”
In addition to the different sources of revenue St. Albans Town can now collect from Walmart, the store also came along with traffic infrastructure improvements to the immediate area, including Route 7. Lanes were widened, sidewalks were installed around the store, new pavement was put down, and traffic signals and new intersections were installed.
“It’s a good amount of money to put all those intersections in,” said Johnson.
Walmart invested about $20 million in store infrastructure, construction and highway and intersection upgrades to accommodate increased traffic, estimated to be 600 extra cars during afternoon shopping peak hours on weekdays.
Though it’s not directly related to Walmart, St. Albans Town is also in the midst of working on a Route 207 loop road or extension in order to accommodate more commercial growth in the area around Walmart.
As to what might be next for Walmart and the property nearby, Johnson said it’s up to developers. For those who are wondering what store might be next, none are going through the St. Albans Development Review Board (DRB) process at the moment, though that could change at any point.
“I hope people recognize that the store went into a growth area of ours,” Johnson said of Walmart. “It’s intended to be commercial growth [near Interstate 89 exits 19 and 20]. That’s part of our town plan.”
The shoppers that were at Walmart on Wednesday seemed ambivalent about bigger stores coming to St. Albans.
“We love the Hudaks (operators of a nearby vegetable stand and gardening center) so much that we can’t believe that we shop here as much as we do,” said Brian Wiggins, who was shopping at with his wife, Erika, and two kids. “But stuff is so affordable here.”
Jenny Sanderson, of St. Albans, who with her 3-year-old daughter, Isabella, was loading her car with items, said she was a reluctant shopper. “I try not to but … I come here once a month maybe.”
Ed Brehaut, of Georgia, said he shopped at Walmart now that it’s close by, but isn’t partial to it. “I still use it,” he said. “This is about the third time – I’m still going to go to Burlington because I like shopping around.”
Others said they were happy they had the option of going to a Walmart closer than the one in Williston.
“I like it,” said George Barton, of Highgate Springs. “It saves me a lot of money from going all the way to Burlington when I want something halfway decent.”