Already the hub for a fast-growing four-county area, Mount Airy is about to get another symbol of continued growth -- its own Wal-Mart.
The national chain -- with more than 2,800 stores nationwide and sales of $93 billion in 1995 -- has four stores within a 30-minute drive of the town, but company officials say the number of customers is expanding in Mount Airy, a town of 5,000 situated where Carroll, Frederick, Howard and Montgomery counties meet.
"We actually haven't announced a store location in Mount Airy. We are looking, and we have narrowed down our site sources to just a few specific sites. But we haven't released those sites because we are in negotiations," said Les Copeland, assistant director of community affairs for Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
Copeland said the chain is "very interested" in the Mount Airy area because research shows Mount Airy customers are shopping at other Wal-Marts.
"We build stores where the people are," Copeland said.
Wal-Mart, which has frequently met with opposition from small-business people, has received a mixed reaction in Mount Airy.
Francis Schmitz, owner of Mount Airy Liquors in the Mount Airy Shopping Center, said Wal-Mart would be "no doubt a major plus to the shopping center" if the chain builds on 13 acres behind the center's Safeway anchor store.
Chester Maleski, owner of Heidi's Gift Shop in the Mount Airy Shopping Center, said the area has "too many Wal-Marts now. They just want to be everywhere they can."
Maleski said he would be in competition with Wal-Mart for cards and gifts if he doesn't retire before the discount store opens. At 76, he is making retirement plans but has not set a date.
Irene Brown, owner of Natural Accents jewelry and flower shop, predicted that a Mount Airy Wal-Mart would draw crowds and probably would hurt the Ames discount department store, which appears to have picked up business since a Jamesway discount store closed in 1995.
A spokeswoman at Ames' corporate offices in Rocky Hill, Conn., did not return telephone calls.
"Wherever they go, they're going to get the business because of their prices, because the more you buy, the cheaper it is," Brown said. "They're going to be able to offer it in gross, and that's where they're going to hurt the little guy."
Mayor Gerald R. Johnson said the discount chain's impact on small businesses "will be devastating, because there's no way mom-and-pop businesses can compete."
Johnson said the chain uses the argument that a Wal-Mart store generates jobs. "They might hire 50 people but might cost 50 other people their jobs," he said.
Copeland said it is too early to talk about the size of a Mount Airy Wal-Mart. "We don't have a deal yet," he said.
The Westminster Wal-Mart has 116,000 square feet, the Eldersburg store has 103,500 square feet, and the Frederick store has 126,350 square feet with plans for a 58,000-square-foot addition.
The proposed 13-acre site for the Wal-Mart is the last vacant property in Mount Airy zoned for business use. The site is similar in acreage to those of Wal-Mart stores in Westminster (13 acres) and Eldersburg (16.9 acres). The Wal-Mart in Frederick is on 26 acres. In Germantown, the store is in a 73-acre shopping center.
Pub Date: 12/03/96