Her husband, Al Woody, calls Walmart an oasis of affordable shopping in a town as expensive to live as Durango. Rebecca Ballesteros appreciates a bargain too, but doesnt always like going in there.
I think it gets really crowded, and the lines are just ridiculous, she said. So I prefer to come early in the morning or late at night unless its really necessary.
Because her preference is to shop at Target, Ballesteros applauds efforts by the city to attract more big-box stores to a new shopping corridor planned for Wilson Gulch Road at U.S. Highway 160 in Grandview.
That would be really great for competition, Ballesteros said. I feel like Walmart is one of the only places to go in Durango to shop.
If consumers crave more choice, local shop owners dread the thought of competing with big chains that can undercut their prices and drive them out of business. Durango would soon lose its distinctive character and begin to look like every other town in America with predictable and identical chain stores, which would hurt tourism, they said.
People wouldnt want to come here for the strip malls, said LeeAnn Vallejos, managing director of Local First, which supports locally owned businesses.
Dire economic predictions that Durango would turn into a ghost town also preceded the arrival of Walmart in 1998.
City officials seem to think Durango will more than survive the next generation of big-box stores to come to town.
They argue the marketplace is big enough to accommodate new stores. Economic & Planning Systems, a city consultant, projects La Plata Countys population growing by 15,000 to 24,000 for a total population of 66,000 to 75,000 by 2030, depending on the recovery of the economy.
Consultants argue that the local population already is spending enough money to justify new stores. The problem is that theyre not spending their money locally.
Their study estimates that Durango and the county of La Plata loses as much as $40 million a year as residents go elsewhere for discounts and department store style shopping. The same study figures that neighboring Farmington gains as much as $120 million from shoppers coming from outside the city.
So city officials see new box stores as a way to recapture some of the $40 million the county already is losing. The economy would expand as a result.
While the stores have not been announced, Durango City Manager Ron LeBlanc anticipates that Durango might get a supermarket, we will get a big retailer. Well probably get an electronics store, a sports store.
The new employees of these stores would spend their paychecks locally, going downtown for a cheeseburger and a microbrew, for example.
LeBlanc said the economic impact of the $40 million has the potential to grow to $160 million. For every new dollar spent, it is going to spin through the community four times. Right now that dollar is being spent in Farmington.
LeBlanc acknowledged there would be some cannibalization as existing stores would lose business to the newer stores. This, of course, would cut into the communitys overall economic gains, but on balance, Durango would still come out ahead.
Its beyond our ability to measure the net effect, but we know its all plus, LeBlanc said.
Dan Garner, an English teacher at Durango High School, appreciates there are trade-offs with the arrival of major chains.
I know my wife would appreciate if more big-box stores came around just for the quality of goods that a Target could bring in, Garner said. However, I am a pro-small business person. I think the more you can spend locally, the more money will stick around locally. Even if a large box store employs a lot of people, the money still goes somewhere else.
Vallejos cites studies that show that for every $100 spent at a locally owned independent store, $68 stays in the community, but at the national chain stores, only $43 of the $100 stays in the locale where it was spent.
Libby Cowles, community-relations manager for Marias Bookshop, emphasized how independently owned stores are vested in their communities.
Were paying taxes. We have kids in schools. Were all locals, she said. It is important to us to support other locally owned businesses.
Its not uncommon for Marias, for instance, to refer customers to other bookshops in town if Marias does not have the book theyre looking for, Cowles said.
In an economic climate where even large supermarkets are selling discounted best-sellers and trade paperbacks, Cowles said Marias would compete by offering specialized service to its customers, being the kind of place where patrons can get book recommendations based on their tastes.
If consumers complain that downtown has become too specialized or expensive, business owners said its because they cannot compete otherwise with the big boxes.
I dont carry dishes anymore because of Bed, Bath & Beyond, said Sharon Taylor, owner of Tippy Canoe Mountain Home Furnishings on Main Avenue.
Taylor likes to offer higher-end, hard-to-find home furnishings that consumers wont find elsewhere. She doesnt think local consumers mind driving to Farmington for big-box shopping if it means they can keep Durangos small-town flavor.
Ultimately, Mayor Christina Rinderle said balance has to be found between giving families more options to buy school clothes for kids at a Target without cannibalizing independent businesses.
While Rinderle believes theres room for new businesses, she thinks Durango always will have some market leakage.
We live here for the beauty and the special unique place that Durango is. Its not because we can buy everything we could possibly want in Durango, she said.