Appreciate what we already have

Now that Carson City has gotten rid of Wal-Mart, why would we want it back?

Wait. Don't hang me from a cottonwood in Fuji Park. Don't send me mold in the mail. Don't bring your dog over to squat in my yard.

I know the answers:

-- Wal-Mart only moved across the county line, so people are still shopping there in packs. Carson City just isn't getting the sales-tax revenue, and that hurts city government.

-- People enjoy shopping there. I have nothing against the place other than the fact the Super Wal-Mart is simply too super.

In the steps you take from parking the car and walking around the store for a few items, you could go from the Nevada State Museum through the Carson Nugget to Telegraph Square.

Nevertheless, there's no arguing with the success of the super-store concept -- an airplane hangar filled with cheap stuff. If that's what you're looking for, Wal-Mart's got it.

-- If there were a Wal-Mart inside the city limits, Carson residents wouldn't have to feel sheepish about being seen there by their friends and neighbors.

Whenever I run into somebody who knows me at Wal-Mart, I feel compelled to say, "I'm just checking it out. I'm not actually spending money here. My tax dollars stay in Carson City." Then I go to Target.

So those are some of the reasons for jumping in the air and clicking our heels at the thought Wal-Mart will be building a second store somewhere on the east side of town. The rumors running rampant are that it is negotiating for 50 acres near College Parkway and Roop Street, but nothing official has happened.

Frankly, Wal-Mart has the time and resources to be negotiating with anybody who has a sizable piece of property along the bypass route. We're still about three years away from somebody actually driving over any of those bridges on the northern half of the freeway. When they do, it's going to change the development dynamics in Carson City dramatically.

In the meantime, there's quite a bit of effort going into keeping downtown alive and well, and a group is looking at ways to liven up Carson's existing highway corridors. There are significant opportunities for business in Carson City. You just have to look a little harder. It's not like standing in north Douglas County and seeing hundreds of sagebrush-covered acres with nothing around them.

I've gone to the Carson Valley Plaza a couple of times since stores started opening there, and here's my first reaction when I walked in the doors: I'm in Reno.

With the exception of Best Buy, which built a smaller store with a different layout, the others look exactly like their counterparts along South Virginia Street. And what's the impression I get driving along South Virginia Street? I could be driving in any of hundreds of cities in America.

It's called the homogenization of America, and much has been written over the years of the dichotomy between people wanting to maintain a uniqueness to the place they live, while craving a certain comfort in the familiarity of their urban surroundings. Chain stores and restaurants have proliferated the past three decades because many people want to know they will get exactly the same hamburger when they pull up to the drive-through window whether they're in New Mexico or New Jersey.

The phenomenon isn't exactly new to Carson City, either, but I doubt it's ever happened in such scale. Passing the magic 50,000 mark in population is a key factor for many national retail outlets. The availability of large parcels in Douglas County and the start of construction on the long-awaited freeway are spurring the trend.

So the forces shaping Carson City are pulling in opposite directions. The desire to preserve historic places and develop a unique downtown is strong. It is dwarfed, however, by the resources available to national chains to buy property and build their stores.

I'm not saying Carson City residents or their leaders should stop them, or even discourage them. People vote with their dollars and, like I said, there are ample and legitimate reasons people want the big-name stores in their communities.

But Carson City doesn't have to settle for being like every other town its size in America. It will always be unique because of its Capitol, its museums, its history. We can vote with our dollars, our efforts and our opinions for the kind of shops, restaurants and culture we want to always have available in Carson City.

If they can survive and flourish, we won't have to long for things in other towns. They'll want what we have.

Barry Smith is editor of the Nevada Appeal.


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