By Ryan Flanagan
Kitchener Post staff
When Walmart wanted to move into Waterloo, St. Jacobs or Guelph, it only did so after years of battles with those communities to keep the global retail behemoth outside local borders.
When the battleground was Stanley Park, the arrival was marked not with a bang, but a whimper.
The largest retailer in the world opened last month in Stanley Park Mall, taking over the former Zellers location. The Zellers store was closed after Target, which purchased Zellers in 2011, decided to divest itself of that location.
After a few weeks of an operational Walmart, though, there’s little reason to think Sam Walton will have any more effect than Zeddy the Bear.
Walmart hasn’t run local businesses out of the mall — the Zehrs grocery store isn’t going anywhere, and aside from clothing stores, there’s little overlap with what’s offered in the rest of the shopping centre.
But it also hasn’t brought hordes of shoppers into either its doors, or those of the rest of the mall.
“You would expect it to be busier,” said Maly Heu, an employee at Transilvania Pastry, a bakery and café in the mall.
Heu lives not far from Fairview Park Mall, which has a Walmart of its own. But she says she’ll often stop at the 68,000-square-foot Stanley Park store before or after work to pick up a few things.
“It’s very convenient and walkable,” she said.
Stanley Park resident Sheri Keeley agrees. She’d previously had little use for Stanley Park Mall aside from banking, but sees the new store’s quieter atmosphere as a positive.
“I like to come here because you don’t have to deal with all the hustle and bustle,” she said.
Several shoppers said the mall had already bounced back from a low point several years ago after the BiWay department store closed, never to be replaced, and a number of smaller tenants followed suit.
While many were glad to see another major retailer come in to replace Zellers, few saw the switch to Walmart as a significant change.
Fewer still had any of the complaints that so dominated local debates about Walmart in the past.
“I think Walmart’s worked on their reputation since then,” said shopper Mark Prince.
“It’s really no different than the Zellers was.”