Community Economy

Babinta Koita’s shop is a motley of African-print skirts, oils and shea butter. He’s owned Broadway Fashions for almost 20 years and lives upstairs from the shop. He’s been at the current location for almost a dozen of those years.

Koita’s shop is in West Louisville, across from where a proposed Walmart would’ve been.

Walmart announced on Friday it has canceled plans to build a superstore at 18th and Broadway, at the former site of a Philip Morris factory. The $30 million project was estimated to bring about 300 permanent jobs to the area as well as another option for grocery and retail shopping.

The company backed out for a mix of reasons, among them a lawsuit challenging the project’s suburban-style design. The suit, which was also dismissed Friday by the Kentucky Court of Appeals, had brought delays.

Koita has seen the area sluggishly improve, but he believes the Walmart would’ve been a catalyst for growth.

“I would think if Walmart would come over here, it would bring us a lot of business,” he said. “It would bring us a lot of traffic. I think it’s a big loss for the area, for the community.”

Babinta LoitaRoxanne Scott | wfpl.org

Babinta Loita of Broadway Fashions

Walmart proposed coming to the area in 2014. But what came along with that proposal was strife, from the lawsuit to criticism of Walmart’s corporate practices.

Many also lauded the effort as a way to spur economic growth in an area that needs it.

But it’s unclear if big-box shops like Walmart spur growth. Janet Kelly, executive director of the Urban Studies Institute at the University of Louisville, says of the economic importance a store like Walmart can bring: “Possibly. Some jobs will be created. That’s a plus.”

“Also some businesses might be inclined to consider adjacent land for new locations because of the volume of consumer traffic that big boxes do,” she says.

Kelly says in the best-case scenario, a big box can be a magnet, albeit a weak magnet, for other businesses.

Walid Adi co-owns a convenience store that’s also across the street from the defunct project. He knew investors who bought property once the would-be Walmart was announced.

“I don’t know how they feel now,” he says.

Adi didn’t feel threatened by a Walmart coming into the area.

“Even if they get some customers from me, the traffic they gonna attract to this area I think is gonna compensate for any loss,” he said.

Walid Adi of Shorty's Food MartRoxanne Scott | wfpl.org

Walid Adi of Shorty’s Food Mart

That traffic could come at a cost. Kelly says research suggests that big-box stores have a negative impact on small businesses in the neighborhood that sell comparable products.

Of course, Walmart has been known as a mom-and-pop-shop killer for years.

“Think about it,” she says. “Would you go to the local hardware store for a hammer if you could get one cheaper at Walmart (and pick up toilet paper and a case of Pepsi while there)?”

The proposed Walmart is the second major West End economic development project to fall through in the past three months. Plans for the West Louisville FoodPort were canceled in August.

But in terms of Walmarts, West Louisville isn’t alone: The project is one of a few stores the retail giant has backed out of this year, including proposals in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Missouri.