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Holyoke divided over proposed Wal-Mart; mayor opposes 

  • A group of people who are against a Walmart store opening in Holyoke hold signs for passing traffic outside the Log Cabin in Holyoke Monday, where an open house was held by Walmart representatives.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    A group of people who are against a Walmart store opening in Holyoke hold signs for passing traffic outside the Log Cabin in Holyoke Monday, where an open house was held by Walmart representatives.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • A map of the proposed Walmart store in Holyoke on display at an open house held by Walmart Monday at the Log Cabin.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    A map of the proposed Walmart store in Holyoke on display at an open house held by Walmart Monday at the Log Cabin.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • William Wertz, who is the director of communications for the eastern region Walmart stores, fields a question during an open house held by Walmart at the Log Cabin in Holyoke Monday. Walmart wants to open a store in Holyoke.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    William Wertz, who is the director of communications for the eastern region Walmart stores, fields a question during an open house held by Walmart at the Log Cabin in Holyoke Monday. Walmart wants to open a store in Holyoke.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • An open house held by Walmart at the Log Cabin in Holyoke Monday, attracted hundreds of people. The stores is planned for Whiting Farms Road in Holyoke, between Route 5 and Interstate 91.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    An open house held by Walmart at the Log Cabin in Holyoke Monday, attracted hundreds of people. The stores is planned for Whiting Farms Road in Holyoke, between Route 5 and Interstate 91.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • A group of people look at a map showing the proposed Walmart store on Whiting Farms Road between Route 5 and Interstate 91 in Holyoke during an open house held by Walmart Monday at the Log Cabin.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    A group of people look at a map showing the proposed Walmart store on Whiting Farms Road between Route 5 and Interstate 91 in Holyoke during an open house held by Walmart Monday at the Log Cabin.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • A group of people who are against a Walmart store opening in Holyoke hold signs for passing traffic outside the Log Cabin in Holyoke Monday, where an open house was held by Walmart representatives.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    A group of people who are against a Walmart store opening in Holyoke hold signs for passing traffic outside the Log Cabin in Holyoke Monday, where an open house was held by Walmart representatives.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • A group of Holyoke residents, at table, front, who favor the proposed Walmart in their city, chat during an open house held by Walmart Monday at the Log Cabin. They are, from left: Yesenia Jusino, Leslie Perez, William Rohan and Christy Caballero with children Kailanni, 3, and Anthony, 2.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    A group of Holyoke residents, at table, front, who favor the proposed Walmart in their city, chat during an open house held by Walmart Monday at the Log Cabin. They are, from left: Yesenia Jusino, Leslie Perez, William Rohan and Christy Caballero with children Kailanni, 3, and Anthony, 2.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • A group of people who are against a Walmart store opening in Holyoke hold signs for passing traffic outside the Log Cabin in Holyoke Monday, where an open house was held by Walmart representatives.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • A map of the proposed Walmart store in Holyoke on display at an open house held by Walmart Monday at the Log Cabin.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • William Wertz, who is the director of communications for the eastern region Walmart stores, fields a question during an open house held by Walmart at the Log Cabin in Holyoke Monday. Walmart wants to open a store in Holyoke.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • An open house held by Walmart at the Log Cabin in Holyoke Monday, attracted hundreds of people. The stores is planned for Whiting Farms Road in Holyoke, between Route 5 and Interstate 91.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • A group of people look at a map showing the proposed Walmart store on Whiting Farms Road between Route 5 and Interstate 91 in Holyoke during an open house held by Walmart Monday at the Log Cabin.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • A group of people who are against a Walmart store opening in Holyoke hold signs for passing traffic outside the Log Cabin in Holyoke Monday, where an open house was held by Walmart representatives.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • A group of Holyoke residents, at table, front, who favor the proposed Walmart in their city, chat during an open house held by Walmart Monday at the Log Cabin. They are, from left: Yesenia Jusino, Leslie Perez, William Rohan and Christy Caballero with children Kailanni, 3, and Anthony, 2.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

Supporters see the 160,000-square-foot “supercenter” as a means to access low-cost goods and bring much-needed jobs to the city. Those opposed to the plan fear the new store will create a net jobs loss and will dissuade other competitive businesses from opening in the area.

If constructed, the Holyoke Wal-Mart would be the 10th in western Massachusetts.

The proposed store would occupy a lot on the east side of Whiting Farms Road to the north of Farnum Drive.

Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse, a critic of the project, did not attend Monday’s open house hosted by Wal-Mart, but did release a statement which read, in part, “I plan on using the weight of my office to prevent Wal-Mart from coming to Holyoke.”

Morse said after reviewing the potential costs and benefits of the project, he couldn’t support it, feeling it would be a “step backwards” in the city’s economic development strategy.

Morse is far from alone in his dislike for the project.

About 40 people stood outside the Log Cabin Banquet and Meeting Hall where the open house was held, holding up signs encouraging drivers to show their opposition to the project.

Jason Garand, member of the Carpenters Union Local 108, said the project has neither his support nor the support of the union.

He said he believed Wal-Mart’s promise of new jobs would be short-lived and would eventually result in a net job loss in the area as other businesses scale back or never open due to increased competition and undercut prices.

“Watch Kmart shut down, watch Big Y never arrive,” Garand said. “It makes no sense.”

Bevan Brunelle of Holyoke said she opposes the project based in large part on how she feels about Wal-Mart as a company.

Brunelle considers herself a documentary buff and said information she’s gleaned from films about Wal-Mart and its business practices is enough for her to oppose the project.

She also thinks Wal-Mart doesn’t provide adequate pay or competitive benefits for its employees.

Brunelle also fears construction of a Wal-Mart may dissuade Big Y supermarkets from opening in the city.

There was no formal presentation from Wal-Mart at the open house, nor a question-and-answer period. Several stations, each with displays on a different part of the project, were set up around the room where people could ask questions.

Matt Smith, of Bohler Engineering, the firm that designed the building, said no permits have been filed for the project, but typically once the permitting process is complete, it takes about 12 months to finish construction.

William Wertz, spokesman for Wal-Mart’s east region, said the new store, if built, will bring about 300 jobs with it, most of which, he said, would be full-time positions and will run the gamut from cashiers to department managers.

Wertz said the biggest factor in deciding to build a Wal-Mart in Holyoke is customer demand.

Wertz said Holyoke residents already spend $11 million in Wal-Marts in neighboring communities like Chicopee. Building one closer would enable them to still shop at Wal-Mart, but with less travel time and less gas used.

When asked about concerns that a new Wal-Mart would draw Holyoke customers away from other established stores, not just other nearby Wal-Marts, he said a new store would be providing “a new choice” for consumers who could choose to shop there or not.

“We’re all about convenience and low prices to customers,” Wertz said.

Leslie Perez of Holyoke is one of those customers who makes the trip to Chicopee to shop at Wal-Mart, she said.

Perez welcomes the idea of the store, not only to cut down on her travel time, but for the influx of jobs she feels will be created alongside it.

“The jobs (in Holyoke) are all gone,” she said. “We sure do need the jobs, right now.”

According to the most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Holyoke’s unemployment rate is 9.7 percent, which puts it above both the national average of 7.4 percent and the Massachusetts average of 6.4 percent.

Perez said there are other retail stores in Holyoke, but many of them aren’t convenient to get to for people who rely on public transportation.

Perez said stores inside the Holyoke Mall tend to charge more than stores elsewhere and carry more luxury items that appeal to younger shoppers, like her 13-year-old son, than day-to-day practical necessities.

“He will be shopping in the mall,” Perez said. “I will be shopping in Wal-Mart, that’s for sure.”

William Rohan of Holyoke said he thinks the project would be an economic shot-in-the-arm for the city and one that may not come again if it’s rejected.

“I’m in favor of progress in Holyoke,” he said. “I don’t see what other opportunities are coming down the road anytime soon.”

Cheryl Davis, who lives in Holyoke and works full-time at Wal-Mart in Northampton, sees the proposed store as an opportunity for those looking for new jobs and for those already working for the company who might benefit from a new location that may be closer to home or have advancement opportunities not available in the store they work in now.

Davis said she hasn’t encountered any of the criticisms leveled at Wal-Mart about her wages, benefits or her treatment by her superiors in her 13 years working for the company.

She said she’s been offered a fair wage, good benefits and has been treated with respect and compassion by her superiors.

“This is a family, I kid you not,” she said. “They’ve been good to us.”

Bob Dunn can be reached at bdunn@gazettenet.com.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jazb24Q2s94

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