The Kennett Square deal is the second project Wal-Mart has in the works in the four counties surrounding Philadelphia. Plans for a Wal-Mart in Upper Providence Township in Montgomery County are pending approval.
Wal-Mart's arrival has sounded the death knell for many small downtowns, which have been unable to compete with the discounter's low prices.
Even before the Wal-Mart rumor began circulating, Kennett Square's downtown had suffered several blows. Sheldon's department store, long a community landmark, closed when the owner retired last year. Bove's jewelry store closed late last year after the store's owner died. So far, neither retail space has been filled. Then, a week ago, the Kace Gallery, which specialized in equestrian art, announced that it would close at the end of the month.
To make matters worse, a new shopping center called the Shoppes at Longwood opened in October on the northeast edge of town with a Super Fresh supermarket, several restaurants and retail space.
Steve Warner, president of the Kennett Square business association, said the shopping center was not in direct competition with many of the downtown businesses, which cater to a special crowd interested in art, antiques and unique gifts.
For Warner, Wal-Mart is more of the same.
"It's just like the shopping centers," said Warner. "They're going to come to town. We can't stop them. We're in a hot little shopping district. We just have to make sure we fill a special niche."
Warner, who owns the Kennett Square Inn, a restaurant in the center of town, said the business association would discuss strategy at its February meeting.
"We haven't firmly gotten a game plan," said Warner. "But they (Wal- Mart) still have a lot of red tape to go through. We're aware that something's going to happen eventually, and we're getting ready."
East Marlborough Township Manager Jane Laslo said Wal-Mart had made no formal application to build on the land, which is zoned for commercial use. A Wal-Mart planner, however, had approached the township to see if he could consult with the township traffic engineer.
Township supervisors agreed to the meeting, said Laslo, as long as one supervisor was present during the consultation. Wal-Mart planners still have not met with the traffic supervisor, Laslo said.
Alonzo, who signed the agreement of sale with Wal-Mart, said that even he was not certain the sale would go ahead.
"I've sold that land before," said Alonzo, referring to a deal with Emory Hill Associates that fell through, "and it didn't work out."