From the Editor’s Desk: Forget Target, we’re just not there yet

Published 6:59 am Saturday, January 20, 2024

There are some things people don’t want to hear. Nobody wants to be told they’re not good enough for a sports team or how they aren’t qualified for a specific position. And in this case, no community wants to hear that they’re just not what Target, Best Buy or random “Company X” is looking for. 

I can honestly say I’ve rarely seen the level of interest folks around here have had over both the Wawa and Harbor Freight construction plans. Stories on those projects constantly rank in the Top 5 for our website and blow up anytime a new one gets posted on social media. I absolutely get it. People in Prince Edward County are ready to see growth and development. 

But with that passion also comes questions. It’s not long after I post a new story about Wawa construction or Harbor Freight plans that an email pops up in my folder. DMs (direct messages) on Facebook come pouring in too at times. And each of them focuses on a similar topic. They want to know why, since we’re big enough for a Harbor Freight, can’t we get a Target? Why isn’t there a Publix sitting in downtown Farmville or a Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse? 

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The answer now is the same as last February, when the community meeting was held at the Moton Museum. 

“We’re not getting another grocery store, folks, unless we have more rooftops, more spending power in this area,” Farmville Town Manager Dr. Scott Davis said at the time. And he’s not wrong. 

Basically, each company, each major chain, has their own rules about expansion. We here at The Herald, for a number of stories over the last year, contacted 10 corporations, representing everything from Aldi to Publix in grocery stores, from Best Buy to Target in department stores. And the answer was the same each time. Farmville, and Prince Edward as a whole, does not meet their requirements. Yes, we can sustain both a Harbor Freight and a Lowe’s, but that’s apples and oranges. Each corporate group has their own list of requirements. It could be as simple as population figures. But for most, it goes beyond that. They look at the town and county ordinances. How much freedom would they have to build? They also look at the income of said population. Do residents have enough disposable income to shop at Company X, even if the economy suddenly took a downturn? Do they have enough people who actually want Company X to come? These are the questions companies ask before being willing to move into an area. 

I’ve lived in the smallest of places, such as my hometown in the NC mountains and I’ve lived in big cities like Charlotte, North Carolina and Richmond. I can say the song is the same in each case. Big businesses aren’t going to just sign off on an expansion without some guarantees that they’ll be successful long-term. Right now, Farmville can’t answer a definite yes to any of those questions. While I get messages in support of new development, I also get some saying we need to tear it all down and go back to being a small, rural community. And what about economics? With the number of people here living paycheck to paycheck, does it make sense for a company to come in and run the risk they won’t get enough support? 

That’s why people harp on the “rooftops” question so much. More rooftops means more residents. More residents means more potential clients. Then, little by little, companies feel more comfortable taking the risk to move to a Farmville. But you don’t get one without the other. There’s no scenario where Target just up and announces tomorrow they have plans to build in Prince Edward County. Smaller operations, like a Harbor Freight or a Dollar General, are more comfortable rolling the dice in these situations because their needs are lower. And I mean smaller in terms of business size. So for now, we should be happy to see the Dollar Generals and the Wawas and the Harbor Freights coming in. That’s the level we’re at right now. To get anything bigger, well, we’re not quite ready for prime time. That’s not to say it won’t happen later on down the line, but we’re just not ready right now. 

BRIAN CARLTON is the editor for The Farmville Herald and Farmville Newsmedia, LLC. He can be reached at Brian.Carlton@FarmvilleHerald.com.