Hutton Ranch Business Owners Welcome Wal-Mart

By Beacon Staff

Local business owners located in the Hutton Ranch Plaza, a retail development on the north end of Kalispell, are welcoming their potential incoming neighbor with open arms.

“Having a Wal-Mart in Hutton Ranch is an awesome thing,” Don Hedlind, owner of Club Sun, a tanning salon and smoothie bar, said. “A-W-E-S-O-M-E. An awesome thing.”

Phil Harris, developer of Hutton Ranch Plaza, announced two weeks ago that he’d sold nearly 18 acres from his north Kalispell shopping center to Wal-Mart to build a Super Center. Wal-Mart closed on the property last month after a year and a half of negotiations, he said.

The retail chain hopes to receive a building permit from the city of Kalispell in December or January, and break ground on the new store by late spring or early summer, according to a Wal-Mart executive. The new Wal-Mart Super Center, which will sell groceries as well as general merchandise, will be a relocation of the current Evergreen store, which will close its doors.

Assuming everything goes smoothly, it could open its doors in early 2010.

It couldn’t come soon enough for local Hutton Ranch business owners, who say the Super Center will drastically increase traffic through the development and their stores. That’s especially important here, business owners say, because city sign ordinances limit their signs on U.S. Highway 93, decreasing name recognition and spontaneous shoppers.

“More traffic means more eyes on the parking lot, eyes on the area,” Hedlind said. “Most people are not just going to go to Wal-Mart; they’ll drive around the complex and see what’s there.”

There is one caveat to the added traffic: Hutton Ranch business owners say it will be especially important to build a proposed connecting road between Reserve Drive and U.S. Highway 93. The road, which is part of the highway bypass plans, cuts behind the development anchored by Target and Home Depot and exits through Hutton Ranch.

“The traffic wouldn’t be handled just going in and out of 93,” Greg Dalton, owner of Postal Annex, said.

For many, including Hedlind, the possibility of a major national retailer like Wal-Mart moving into the development, along with the proximity of other such stores like Target and Costco, was one of the main reasons they moved into Hutton Ranch.

Glacier Quilts made the move to Hutton Ranch just over a year ago from its previous location on U.S. Highway 2.

“We were part of the Costco route, but when Costco moved we saw a change,” owner Susan Gilman said. “I guess you could say we kind of followed the Costco trend: We didn’t know Wal-Mart would be coming, but we knew other large retailers were here and wanted to be back on a main traffic route again.”

Since relocating, Gilman said she sees her regular customers more often, because they are more likely to be doing other shopping in the area and just drop in. “It’s not quite so far, not a special trip,” she said. She only expects that to increase when Wal-Mart arrives.

Nationally, Wal-Mart often draws opposition from communities, who accuse the retail giant of using its size and outsourcing to put mom-and-pop stores out of business. But Hutton Ranch business owners say they don’t see the store as competition.

“I turn that argument around and say their effect on mom-and-pop stores is a lot less compared to how much they help everyday people by offering lower prices,” Dalton said. “And ultimately, if they were to put me out of business, that’s OK – that’s just business, that’s what capitalism is all about.”

By sticking to their respective niches, namely increased customer service and high-quality products, business owners here expect their business not only to stay steady, but flourish with the new addition of Wal-Mart. The Super Center is more likely to compete with other large retailers like Target than their stores, they add.

“It’s like this: I go to local hardware stores because I don’t have to walk what I call the dead aisles of Home Depot looking for an orange vest,” Hedlind said. “If we tailor our business plans to accommodate customers, if we can do that as local businesses and go back to our roots of a customer-service approach, we’ll survive.”