The approval process for the Walmart Neighborhood Market on Main Street was set into motion this week when developers submitted their plans for the project to the village. If each domino falls as planned, construction could feasibly begin in August.
However, three Menomonee Falls businesses in the shopping center would become casualties of the wrecking ball if the project becomes a done deal. Minuteman Press and A Cut A Head, both 20-year-old tenants in the shopping center, along with Sounds Car Audio would need to find new homes.
Gatlin Development Co. plans to build a 40,000-square-foot supermarket and pharmacy in the vacancy-laden Pilgrim Village shopping center at Main Street and Pilgrim Road. As part of the plan, the Piggly Wiggly, which has sat empty since 2007, and the adjacent mall would be demolished. Gatlin submitted their plans on Wednesday.
For years, this section along Main Street has ranked near the top of the village’s list of places to revamp. However, the original plan for improving the shopping center was unsuccessful, and the village was forced to change course recently after several years. Planning Technician Matthre Dorner said Gatlin’s proposal would likely bring needed traffic to the area, and have a catalytic effect on future development along the Main Street corridor.
“It’s in the best interests of the village to fill those vacancies in that shopping center,” Dorner said.
For every action, an opposite or equal reaction
For some, the Walmart Neighborhood Market represents a new beginning and new life for Main Street. But for those business owners being pushed out, the development signals the end of the line.
It was hard for the owners of A Cut A Head and Minuteman Press to put into words their anger, sadness, and confusion regarding the fate of their businesses. They feel there’s been no support from the village or developers to keep their established businesses in Menomonee Falls. Rather, they feel like they’re simply getting the boot and being ignored.
“Out of all the things that I thought could happen to our business in 20 years, I never imagined that we would be forgotten and just thrown to a wrecking ball,” said Judy Haasch, a stylist with A Cut Ahead.
A Cut A Head includes a group of 13 stylists who essentially run their own hair styling and massage businesses under one roof. Haasch said they are searching for a new site in the village, but without success. Gatlin has offered the salon owners a 2,000-square-foot space in the renovated facility, but Haasch said the price offered by Gatlin is far too high.
“I’m too old to do this again and start over,” said Haasch, who’s been a stylist for 47 years. “We’re trying to fight for all of us, because we’re all a family here. Big business will not bully us apart. I’m just so angry, tired and defeated.”
Around the corner at Minuteman Press, the tenor from management is much the same. Owner Barry Landowski said it would cost him between $30,000 and $50,000 to move all the equipment with his business, not accounting for closure time and lost customers. He’s working with a commercial real estate agent to find a prospective new site.
He said he’d like to stay in Menomonee Falls, but he’s considering Germantown and Milwaukee as possible locations. Landowski said the hardest thing for him is that the fate of his business in the shopping center is uncertain; yet he has not heard details from developers, the village or his landlord as to what he should prepare for.
“I’ve been here 20 years and no one has contacted me from the village or the developer. We haven’t heard from anybody yet, and we’re relying on rumors,” Landowski said.
Office Manager Brian Landowski, Barry’s son, said he’s been a part of his father’s business for his entire life. He said it’s discouraging that the village hasn’t stepped up to help an established business like theirs.
“Does anybody want to help the little guy anymore?” Brain Landowski said. “Or is it all about corporate America today?”
The realities of real estate
Pilgrim Village Shopping Center owner Richard P. Conley said the Walmart development has placed him in an awkward position as a landlord. Although his tenants want answers about their future, he’s hesitant to say anything until the project is a done deal.
“It’s challenging as a landlord because the tenants are calling me and I don’t what to tell them,” Conley said. “If I could give them something definitive I would. All I can tell them is that they are going through an approval process.”
Conley said his years of experience in the real estate business have taught him that nothing is certain until the deal is closed. Therefore, he said he will not tell his tenants they can stay or go until the project is a sure thing.
Conley said he understands his tenants’ frustration with their current situation, but added that their worries are a byproduct of renting a storefront on a month-to-month basis.
“From a tenant’s perspective, if they wanted to secure their future they had the opportunity to do so when a long-term lease was offered to them. If you are on a month-to-month deal you are vulnerable,” Conley said. ““If they wanted protection they could have made a long-term lease.”
Conley said if a buyer, such as Gatlin, purchases the center they must honor any lease of a tenant. As a result, they are either included in the new construction or their lease is bought out.
Both Otto’s and Friends of Nature have in long-term lease agreements and will likely stay where they are. Lynn Wilde, owner of Friends of Nature, said she anticipates rents will rise, but she doesn’t know how much at this point.
“We’ve been here 20 years and we don’t plan on moving,” Wilde said.
Although the fate of some businesses in the center isn’t the brightest, Conley said there are plenty of other places within Menomonee Falls to locate. He said in a tough recessionary period, a project like Walmart’s is a welcome improvement for the corner.
“That corner is going to look much different it’s going to increase values and bring more tax revenue to the village. It’s a nice looking project,” Conley said. “I think it’s a good project for Menomonee Falls, and there is a very high probability that it will go through. But it’s not over until the fat lady sings.”