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La Fogata owner Miguel Gomez sat down with candidate Christopher Connell to discuss the project and said he would welcome the extra foot traffic.

Tyler Street Businesses to Connell: No Problems With Walmart Project

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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Joe Castoldi has operated Castoldi's Barber Shop for years and says he isn't worried about competition from a salon in the proposed Walmart.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Joe Castoldi has run his barber shop for years on Tyler Street, just a block away from where a proposed Walmart Supercenter is eyed to be built.
 
The supercenters often have a salon inside the building so one would think Castoldi would be worried about competition — especially competition from such a large corporation.
 
But he's not.
 
"I don't worry about competition. If you give a person what they want, they'll come back," Castoldi said. 
 
In fact, Castoldi says if anything the store will be bring more visibility to his business with more cars and foot traffic. He's been there for years and hasn't seen anything happen with the William Stanley Business Park so he sees the proposal as a good one not only for the neighborhood but for the whole city. 
 
Not every one shares his view though. Ever since Waterstone Realty proposed the project there have been divisive views on it and emergence of campaigns for and against the project.
 
"I just can't understand the negativity," he said. "The more people you bring to the area, the more exposure you get. So why fight that?"
 
Castoldi prefers not to use the term "big box store" and says instead "I call it an anchor store. If I was a big businesses like a Home Depot or Lowes, I would want to be next to a Walmart." He added that in 2014, Walmart gave some $1.4 billion to charities, another positive of the company. 
 
Dipak Shah owns Kirks Variety and he says the new Walmart won't make much of an impact. He sells groceries, which may take a hit, he said, but the supercenter won't be selling lottery and cigarettes which draws people in. He says if the Walmart is built, there will be increased traffic and people will be stopping in for those items.
 
 "I like traffic. It is good for business," Shah said.
 
About a half-dozen Tyler Street businesses shared those same sentiments on Friday when House of Representative candidate and City Councilor Christopher Connell stopped in with a list of seven questions asking about the impacts — from whether a new bus stop at the location will help or hurt to increased foot traffic to construction — the supercenter will have. All but one of the businesses praised the project.
 
"I think it came out pretty positive. Most of the business owners were looking forward to it with a few exceptions to some of the questions," Connell said. "I was kind of surprised. I was expecting, especially like the convenience store, to say it was going to dramatically affect their business. He's all for it because of the increased traffic."
 
Alper Kuruca, who owns Pizza Works, said the negative impacts from Walmart have already hit the area. The Walmart in the Berkshire Crossing already attracts customers away from the smaller businesses. 
 
"If it is going to be a new Walmart then you could say it [would hurt business]," he said. "If people want to go to Walmart then they are going to go there."
 
The owner of Gilly's Snowboard Shop considers it an expansion and not a new store. The manager at J+J Lock says her customers already go to Walmart and come to her store when Walmart doesn't have the products they're looking for. The manager at La Fogata said more traffic is good for the restaurant. 
 
"These are small businesses. A loss of 10 percent sales could put them out of business. But I didn't get that they were anticipating anything like that with this project," Connell said.
 
The independent candidate for the state House of Representatives has been on the fence. He likes that Waterstone will spend $12 million to ready the foundation, $6 million of which will eliminate and update stormwater systems. He likes that the company, so far, isn't asking for any tax breaks. And he likes that the developer says there is room to build off the big box store and bring additional businesses in. 
 
Part of the project is also to renovate the Tyler Street and Woodlawn intersection, a welcome proposal for Kuruca, who says there are many accidents there.
 
But, Connell has been nervous about the economic impact to local stores. He is calling for an independent study of those impacts — though the businesses he talked to on Friday mostly said it wasn't needed. He hopes that study will put other businesses who are worried about the project at ease.
 

Dipak Shah is worried about a drop in the sale of grocery items at Kirk's Variety but feels the cigarette and lottery sales increase with more traffic would help.
"I think the study will help. I think it will calm the businesses on North Street because they are the ones I am hearing mostly the negative feedback. But, I am pretty encouraged by these businesses saying they really don't have a problem," Connell said. "If they are willing to go for it, they are going to be right in the front lines going through everything, construction, extra traffic."
 
Connell is the Ward 4 city councilor so he does have a vote in the matter. He plans, if elected, to retain that seat and serve on both the City Council and in the State House. Not only would he then have a role on the local level, but moving into the future he says he would be advocating for whatever state help is needed to continue to build out the William Stanley Business Park.
 
 "As a councilor, I also need to know this also. I was on the fence and I wanted to get more information," Connell said.
 
Only at Tyler Street Pizza House did Connell find arguments against it, with the owner there saying the increased traffic could make it difficult for his customers to get in and he also opposed giving any tax breaks to the developer. But, there was no mention of decreased business.
 
With a mostly favorable opinion of the project, Connell says he is "leaning closer" to wanting to approve it. But, he wants to make sure the developer puts certain promises in writing.
 
In the race for state representative, Connell is up against the winner of the Democratic primary between incumbent Tricia Farley-Bouvier, who hasn't made a statement about the project publicly, and Michael Bloomberg, who adamantly opposes it. 
 
"I don't know if any of my competitors in this race have even asked or polled any of these people," Connell said.
 
 

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Tags: business park,   election 2016,   PEDA,   tyler street,   Walmart,   


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