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Published: Tuesday, 8/16/2005

Let's keep an open mind about Costco at Westgate

We should learn more specifics this week about redevelopment potential for Westgate, that 1950s-era shopping century that looks more and more like some fish flopping around on the bottom of the boat, gasping its last.

Looming in the distance, of course, is Costco.

The bad news? It's yet another big-box retailer.

The good news? It gives every sign of being a fair-minded company that pays employees well and provides very good benefits.

"The anti Wal-Mart," a New York Times headline declared last month.

Cashiers can earn more than $40,000 a year - plus full medical, dental, vision, and disability benefits, plus 401(k)s and the chance to buy stock options.

After a recent column about my ambivalence (which continues, I might add) toward the prospect that Westgate might play host to Costco, plenty of you sent me e-mail. Most of you are less uncertain than I am, apparently, although it's fair to say that opinion seems evenly divided.

"Just what we don't need," Kent Snyder wrote, "another behemoth pole barn selling crummy, inferior Chinese merchandise."

But Phil and Rhea Holloran, noting Costco's humane wage scale, wouldn't agree with Kent. "Considering other similar companies," the couple wrote, "it is refreshing to hear there are still some out there that are concerned for their personnel."

And then many folks, like Opie Rollison, weren't so much against Costco as they were opposed to its purported location smack dab in the Westgate strip mall.

There are, he wrote, "more reasonable alternatives on Secor Road. There is a perfect site at defunct Showcase Cinemas, and [a nearby Foodtown] still sits abandoned Although I support property rights and the development of jobs in the community, the owners of Westgate should not have the support of the community because they chose not to invest in their own property and to sell it to the first big-box warehouser with a check."

Even Toledo's mayoral hopefuls got in on all this. A shame, said one. Westgate can do better than Costco, said another.

Well, said yet one more mayor wanna-be, echoing Mr. Rollison, no big-box at the shopping center itself, but somewhere else in the area would be OK - a sentiment that baffles District Councilman Ellen Grachek.

"I really am floored about that. 'We don't mind a Costco, just not right there.' But here's the thing: Those places are all privately owned."

Bingo.

Much as we might like to think of Costco as some big red Monopoly hotel we can pick up and move according to our whims, it simply isn't so.

"If I could snap my fingers and bring back the Westgate Dinner Theater, I would," said Ms. Grachek. "And I'd bring back Tiedtke's, too, for that matter But real estate deals are a function of private dealing -- which is why I'm delighted this is a Costco we're talking about, and not a Wal-mart."

That alone is reason enough, I think, to reserve judgment and keep an open mind.



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