Ballston Journal Online Publisher Angela Mcfarland

Are we working with the same definition of ‘Community’?

The addition of Walmart to the Town of Ballston is spurring the normal and expected reactions of support, opposition, and discussions that have made me realize: we are NOT all working with the same definition of ‘community’.

First, let me go on record and get it out of the way by saying I support the Walmart project. And, I still share the worries of the opposition. Will crime increase, will traffic on Route 50 be even worse during peak times, do we really need to be supporting of China’s economy?

I’ve even done my homework and have read voraciously the neighborhood ups and downs when a Walmart moves in to towns and neighborhoods, although I tend to be a visual learner: I have hung my final opinion based on what I’ve seen happen to DeVoe’s in Clifton Park.  You know, that little ole’ orchard and ice cream place practically in the parking lot over there? They sell apples and ice cream–just like the monster behind them, and they are doing well. Very, very well, actually.

But….

I was already leaning in support of the project based on the mere facts of our situation:  the PUDD is being followed to the letter, there’s been a lot of money spent on addressing traffic concerns to which a valid solution, according to DOT, has been achieved. This Walmart is a smaller store that is not offering directly competitive services (no garden center in Agway’s backyard, no tire center behind Jim’s Citgo), nor things that directly compete to a number of the shops and ‘community’ services in the Village.

Mostly, I’ve had the privelege of watching, thru the power of digital technology, just who makes up this ‘community’ during the audacious experience of keeping  The Ballston Journal going after 200 years. The ‘community’ is not what the traditionalists think it is.

I’ve offered this ‘community’ information and data to various leaders and officials: how they are changing, where the biggest growth is happening….it’s been alot like what I imagine Alexander Graham Bell felt when he was trying to make a hearing aid, but discovered the telephone by accident.  Hard not to share something so incredibly awesome when you think you know “everything” but discover you didn’t, and there’s WAY MORE to this ‘community’.

And that’s my sticking point.  Our whole ‘community’ is bigger than just the Village residents, who are the largest majority opposed, to Walmart coming.  I see Ballston, Ballston Lake, Charlton, Ballston Spa, Milton, West Milton, Malta and Rock City Falls as the ‘community’.  I see seniors, working families and a population of low and middle-income residents in this Village that rely on stores like Walmart, out of necessity, from a much broader lens. They would still consider themselves, like I do, part of this ‘community’.

Let’s not stick our heads in the sand.  Yes, I pointed out the low to middle income ‘community’ so acting like it doesn’t exist is ridiculous. We’ve always been “that” so the select few that want to ignore it need to stop it. We are not Saratoga Springs nor are we clinging to life like Gloversville and that’s ok.  We are good people.

Our school lunch program has been, for years, serving a large percentage of free and reduced income lunches so regular shopping at the boutiques on Front Street is likely not a habit for quite a few of the folks that I would consider part of this ‘community’.

Now, I do NOT to wish to disregard or disrespect the very real emotions of the Village and Town of Ballston opponents of this project, nor the upper-middle and upper-income parts of the ‘community’.  I have dear friends and favorite acquaintences who will be inconvenienced and quality of life altered by the change and their upset is meaningful. To them, you know I love you, but I said this has been coming.

Remember when I started griping and squawking about:

  • Your money being spent out of the neighborhood on legal notices? Still happening. Your Town government hasn’t been sinking YOUR money back into YOUR neighborhood, with mutual dedication to your love of community, for a long time now. They have not negotiatied local contracts for products and services like uniforms or landscaping materials (all available here).  Why didn’t you demand the change so we didn’t really “need” Walmart or development money with the same passion as you are anti-Walmart, when I told you about it a few years ago?
  • Your local business and professional association has been choosing non-member, non-local media for business promotions for years.  Their focus, I was told a while ago, is to concentrate on driving outside audience into town, not consistently bringing folks even 1 – 2 miles away into the Village in spite of a few thousand new people that have moved in.  We’ve all watched tons of businesses come and go. New businesses pop up and are not offered the most obvious opportunity, the hometown media, to build their foundational customer base, the nearest and most likely ‘community’.  Wouldn’t it be cool if the local business association saw the neighborhood ‘community’ as equally if not more valuable than just ‘outsiders’ ?
  • You have watched some great small businesses close, BEFORE Walmart has come to town, including my own store, because we couldn’t draw enough ‘community’ to spend to keep it going. In the past 5 months alone we’ve seen Shanna’s Closet, Strata, Wheats & Sweets and Crazy Cow close.  Upstate Cellular left and before them Smokey Bones and before them that hot dog place and before them the shrimp place.  The Car Hop is not re-opening.  Both Mango Tree Imports and Abigail’s Tea & Tiara’s are looking to lease or sell their businesses.  There are two stores specifically on Front Street, who I do not wish to embarass publicly, who will not advertise locally because they don’t feel their shoppers are YOU. They have said  YOU are not the “type” they feel would shop in their store.  Walmart wants you, they want to give you tax money, convenience, jobs and they will buy tons of local advertising for pennies in digital and broadcast to tell you they want you.
  • Even the media that had came flocking to town these past 6 years, that had designs on being a THE “local” source and put the Journal “out of business”. They left. Not enough local support. Gone are Tuesday Edition, The Spotlight, Ballston Spa Life—even the Saratogian has pulled their vendor boxes and cut back on their local coverage.  The Pennysaver has never been harder to get or find.  The Gazette is holding fast but, like all daily newspapers, losing paid subscriptions year after year and struggling to monetize digitally to be solid for the future. It’s a hard business and dependent on ‘community’ support from readers and businesses.  We’ve had a few fly by media in-between. As last (wo)man standing, with a brand still here after hundreds of years, I like to think we kinda know best who our ‘community’ is.
  • At the planning board meeting, the property broker, Tom Savino, who has been working on presenting this land to buyers for 10 years, said the words, that were hard to hear, but he said them:  lots of others have looked at this property and turned away. They don’t want us.
  • The notoriously low wages that Walmart will bring? Umm, I see alot of you, all the time actually, at McDonald’s, Dunkin Donuts, Aldi’s, Ocean State, Stewart’s….the Walmart attorney stated, on record, the average wage of an employee of Walmart in NYS is $13.04/per hour.  And Walmart is bringing 300 of those jobs and 150 higher paying construction jobs. No one else, including those I’ve listed above is offering that now, or projecting that anytime soon.  How come there is no opposition locally to what those employers are paying which we know is minimum wage or slightly above?

So now that several of you are still reading this and are really, really ticked off at me (again), I’m going to say “I told you so” one last time.  Moving forward:

  • I do think there is a chance for Ballston government to get on track under Supervisor Ziegler’s leadership but in the meantime, we need tax revenues and jobs.  There is still time for the Walmart opposition to start demanding government stop spending out of area so we can fill the coffers and be able to pick and choose who develops in our town. It’s your leadership, MAKE THEM spend their money here not just with legal notices, but negotiate for products and services like uniforms (Logo Wearhaus) and landscaping materials (Curtis Lumber, Agway) as well. You have to start here before selectively getting upset over Walmart.  Your town goverment is taking your dollars out of town, so don’t be mad that someone else from out of town wants to give it back to you.
  • The Village Board of Ballston Spa would do well to follow some of what I see happening in Mechanicville.  They are too buried as a part-time government to move forward. THIS IS BAD. Mechanicville has developed economic initiatives for small business, have worked side-by-side with The Chamber of Southern Saratoga County  for revitalization and community first initiatives and a bunch of little very difficult but good, hard steps to be a viable community.  I would like to see the Walmart opponents energize into a more strategic business development plan for the long term.  They’ve had this chance for 10 years and while I think it is too late  to push out Walmart now, it’s not too late to really organize and control growth moving forward. This CAN happen with guided energy.
  • The BSBPA is a fantastic community group with an incredible base of volunteers that dedicate more than a reasonable amount of their time, their passion and their energy to preserving a way of life that we find so charming.  As a business development group, I’m not  a fan. They stick with what they think they know, they are a real pain in the rear to work with professionally and their board tends to make too many decisions based on a few personal feelings.  You can attend their board meetings and ask them about their strategies to market local to local first before getting upset with Walmart or the Rossi family.  Heck, I’d be first to renew my membership and encourage the other lost business members to do the same if I saw a real local to local first initiative from the BSBPA.

Walmart sees you, a whole ‘community’they way I see you. And there is a whole ‘community’ to serve, and a few thousand people who would love to shop within a 3 to 5 mile radius who haven’t gotten what they needed from Town or Village government and local business.

I’d like to see, neighbor to neighbor, that we at least try to define who we feel is the ‘community’ before anyone steps out and says they represent ‘community’.  I’m going to say you are representing a minority.

This project is only part of the major changes we’ve been living, and a chance to disagree, but come together to decide how the future will all play out.

And, I know many Walmart supporters, like me, will still choose to eat and shop local, like we already do, because of the quality and selection of unique shops and restaurants in town. We’ll be happy to see some of those small businesses actually make MORE money because of the increase in traffic from Galway, Charlton and we’ll be glad more of our ‘community’ neighbors can get  jobs that will allow them to spend their money earned closer to home.

As a ‘community’, can that really, really be all that bad?

Angela McFarland
Chief Creative Officer and Ad Whisperer 
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The statements and views expressed in the Publisher’s Pen are solely that of Angela McFarland and do not represent, or reflect, the opinions or views of The Ballston Journal Online LLC or NewzMedia Holdings LLC.

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