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Pope's Hardware--a Chatham institution at risk


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Pope's True Value Hardware is a neighborhood institution in northeast Chatham County. Known for its customer service and customer loyalty, it's where you buy everything from stamps to light bulbs. And for many in Chatham and southern Orange counties, more than anything it's a symbol of all that Super Wal-Mart could destroy.

Pope's family business dates back to the 1930s, says Tommy Pope, the owner. The hardware store has been at its current location since 1984, and there are two other locations in the region, in Durham and Coats.

"This was a very undeveloped area at that time," Pope says. "We were in the country. The first four or five years we were out here, we were wondering if we made a mistake. But since then it has quickly developed."

Wal-Mart's interest in the property just north of his shop comes as no surprise to Pope; he's heard the rumors for five or six years. Despite all the neighborhood fuss, Pope isn't so sure that a new Wal-Mart is going to hurt his business.

"A lot of times it's a positive effect. Businesses bring more people. But on the other hand, it could be negative because you're slicing the pie into more slices." In the end, he hopes to rely on the practices that have worked for him for years. "We're hoping that by giving the customers what they want, we'll be OK."

Research on the effect that Wal-Mart has on small businesses is almost as varied as the researchers. N.C. State University economist Mitch Renkow researches rural economic development and will publish an article on how Wal-Mart effects local economies in the next issue of N.C. State Economist. He says that it's hard to assess the net effects that a Wal-Mart has on local businesses in any given community. It's just as hard to assess the effects on the community as a whole. Sales tax and property tax revenue may increase, but there are additional costs for police and fire service and solid waste removal. Wal-Mart provides lots of jobs, but jobs may be lost at competing local firms. Consumers pay lower prices for goods, but some may face wage loss or reduction due to Wal-Mart's entry into the local economy. Renkow says that the net value of the Wal-Mart depends on the individual.

"It's going to be them or other businesses--what's the difference?" Pope says. "It's a growing area. It brings on lots of problems. You have to take the good and the bad." But he acknowledges that his concerns as a businessman who commutes to work are different than the concerns of Chatham residents. "If I had a home here, I wouldn't want Wal-Mart next to me," says Pope, who lives out in Harnett County. "They moved out here to get away and now it's following them."


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