It’s the stuff of a modern urban legend. David vs Goliath. The multi-national corporation versus small-town America.
Anytime a new business comes to Peru, or one closes (like what just happened with Kmart), people tell the tale of when Walmart tried to build a store in Peru.
Some versions tell the story of a city official dressing up as a clown to insult Walmart and keep them from building here. Some versions say the city opposed the Walmart to protect our local Kmart store while others say it was done to protect local businesses. Whatever version is told, they all tell a tale of a giant multi-national cooperation being insulted and shut out of Peru by our local business owners and government officials with Walmart vowing never to build a store in Peru. But is any of it true?
One local businessman has had his fill with the tall tales and wants to set the record straight. Dave Van Baalen owns several local businesses including the Roxy Theatre which sits on the site that Wal-Mart was interested in buying in the late 80s and early 90s.
At the time Walmart wanted to build here, the land where the Roxy sits was owned by Russ Beller, who has worked with Van Baalen in many business ventures over the years.
“Walmart uses a site selector and that individual came to town because Walmart was interested in Peru at the time,” according to Van Baalen. “They settled on the site of where the Roxy is now and took out an option to purchase the property.”
An option is like a down payment of sorts. It allows a company to reserve the property and hold it. They must exercise their option to buy the land by a certain date or they lose the money they put down and the current landowner is free to sell the property to anyone after that date.
Walmart held the option and actually came back and put money down for a second option to extend the deadline while still working to finalize the deal.
Everything was going great for the city and it looked like the Walmart would be built but then something happened. Walmart decided to back out of the deal. The city was shocked and wanted to know why they were backing out. The reason would come as a huge shock to the city officials and local businesses.
No, there were no clown suits. No efforts to keep Walmart from coming to town. Walmart backed out of the deal because they learned that Grissom Air Force Base was going to be re-aligned. A change that would cost Miami County hundreds of good-paying Air Force jobs and devastate the local economy for years to come. Walmart had heard it first, before anyone one else.
This came as quite the shock to the city leaders who had, up to this point, heard nothing about the base being closed. Walmart backed out of the deal because of the closing of the Air Force Base, pure and simple. No big conspiracy. No plot to keep the retail giant out of town.
City leaders then as well as now would welcome a store like Walmart. The economic impact and jobs it would bring would be a great boost to our local economy.
Van Baalen has kept in touch with Walmart through the years.
“They have looked at property in Peru and are interested, they just aren’t building very many stores anywhere right now while they sort out the changes to retail brought on by e-commerce,” said Van Baalen.
Van Baalen feels confident that if Walmart were to start building stores in Indiana, Peru would be among the towns they would look at. As recently as the last three to four years, a site selector has looked at a piece of property called Broadway Landing, a 64-acre plot of land behind the Peru Dairy Queen.
In the meantime, City Officials and local businessmen like Dave Van Baalen and others continue to work every day to bring new business ventures into the Broadway Landing property as well as other areas in Peru and Miami County.
“We’re trying to bring in retail, fast food, medical, you name it,” said Van Baalen. “Nobody is standing in the way.”
“Over the years and many businesses, I have opened in and around Peru, I have never had to ask for anyone’s permission and no one has ever had to ask my permission either,” said Van Baalen. “Anyone wanting to open any type of business in Peru is welcomed with open arms by the city as well as the other business owners.”
So, the next time someone wants to tell you the tall tale of when Walmart wanted to come to town think about this. Does it really make sense that someone would stand in the way of bringing in jobs and economic growth to our community?