The cash registers are ringing like crazy at the new Super Wal-Mart that just opened its doors on Highway 287 in Lafayette. It could mean millions to the local economy. But it comes at a cost. Just ask Elisha Isha.
She owns Liquor Zone at Waneka Parkway and South Public just down the road. For 20 years, Wal-Mart anchored the plaza, but it shuttered to make way for its Super counterpart a few miles away. Now all that’s left is a dying strip mall.
Isha has run the liquor store for seven years—she owns the building, too. The first four years were profitable. Sales took a hit when an Albertsons grocery store left three years ago, causing a near 70 percent dip in her bottom line. Now without any draw to the strip since Wal-Mart’s departure, Isha is seeing additional losses of $300-plus a day. Her shelves are half stocked with wine, booze and beer because it’s all she can afford.
“It is hard because nobody wants to buy here,” she says of her declining business.
Isha’s story is not unique. When a large retailer bolts for another location or closes, it leaves a gapping hole that once guaranteed traffic to the area. The shopping plaza is already half empty, with the few who remain just holding on.
“I may lose everything,” Isha says with her Greek accent as thick as the day she moved to Colorado in 1980. “I put everything into this building. You can look at the parking lot, there’s nobody now.”
With no immediate hope of landing a big-ticket retailer and redevelopment years and millions of dollars away, she and the other small businesses that own their retail pads are stuck in limbo.
“They are in a very difficult position; we do recognize that,” says Bonnie Star, the city’s executive director of urban renewal who is overseeing the project. “There’s no question that the loss of the space hurts, that’s a lot of the cars out of the parking lot. We have tried to be on the front end of the curve.”
That’s up for debate, according to one member of city council.
“There was no discussion on the effects of Wal-Mart moving out,” says a peeved Kerry Bensman, Lafayette City Council member. “The city’s going to have a major blighted area sitting there.”
Star argues that a solid foundation is in place for the redevelopment of the 22-acre parcel (Boulder County owns four acres with plans for moving a county building there) and discussions about what to do have been ongoing for more than a year. It takes time, and right now the biggest roadblock seems to be Wal-Mart and their slow response in pricing the old building.
“Even though it feels like were spinning our wheels right now, the potential for this site is huge,” Star says. “What we’re trying to do is revitalize it into something that is better than before.”
The city initially tried to convince Wal-Mart to renovate its former site by expanding into the old Albertsons space, which Lafayette owns. But Wal-Mart turned down incentives, saying it wanted the prime visibility that came the site on 287 between Arapahoe and Baseline roads. The city then chipped in $2.3 million in incentives to foster the cross-city move.
Under the guidance of elected officials, Star is now working to lure a new urbanism development at Waneka Parkway that would include residential units, offices and possibly some retail. She says the city will throw tax breaks, friendly loans and its $2-million retail pad at a developer that brings the right plan to the table.
The unfortunate part of this story is that even in a best-case scenario, Star doesn’t expect ground to be broken for a year, leaving Isha and others crossing their fingers that they can hold on that long.
“I don’t have a life,” she says, explaining her 15-hour workdays. “I don’t have money to do anything…If I lose this, I’ll lose my house, too.
“That’s it. That’s all that I have.”