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Published: Wednesday, 8/10/2005

Reactions mixed to plans for Costco in Westgate Village

BY GARY T. PAKULSKI
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
A Costco warehouse store would be a major departure from the small, specialty shops at Westgate Village Shopping Center.
A Costco warehouse store would be a major departure from the small, specialty shops at Westgate Village Shopping Center.
FRASER / BLADE Enlarge

Warehouse-format stores are not eye candy, concedes jeweler Jeffrey Hoffman.

Still, he won't be sorry if Costco Wholesale Corp. proceeds with plans to locate in Toledo's once quaint Westgate Village Shopping Center, where residents of tony areas such as Old Orchard and Ottawa Hills used to go for everything from the newest John Grisham novel to the latest Calvin Klein jeans design.

"It won't be the prettiest building," said the Westgate merchant, who operates Diamond Designs by Hoffman.

"But Westgate isn't working the way it is," he said in an interview at the 1950s-era strip center, where a growing number of shops have been shuttered.

A day after a top executive of America's fifth-largest retailer confirmed in an interview with The Blade that the chain is near a deal to open a giant Costco warehouse store in Westgate, merchants, neighbors, and shoppers offered mixed reviews.

"We wouldn't like to see a big box store go in there," said Harry Ward, a member of the steering committee of the Westgate Neighbors organization.

"We don't think that kind of business fits the area. We would like to see small independent businesses as have been in there in the past."

However, he said the neighborhood organization was unlikely to actively oppose construction of the store unless Costco sought taxpayer assistance. Neighbors unsuccessfully tried to block construction of a Home Depot store in the area a few years ago.

A representative of Westgate's owners, Abbell Credit Corp., of Chicago, didn't return a call yesterday. But on Monday, Elizabeth Holland from Abbell said redevelopment plans haven't been finalized and that she would not comment.

But Doug Schutt, finance chief for Costco, in Issaquah, Wash., said Monday that the firm is completing financial due diligence on the Westgate site and expects to complete a deal in about a month and open its first Toledo store in 18 months.

Any plan will likely involve partial or total demolition of the 48-year-old strip center.

However, no action is planned before the Christmas holidays, Westgate owners assured a tenant last week.

Costco's 450 stores average 139,000 square feet and offer discounts to "members" on brand name and private label merchandise - about 60 percent of which are grocery items. The stores compete with Sam's Club, operated by Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

"It will be excellent for Westgate," said Dusty Hill, manager of Allied Record Exchange in the center. "It will be nice to have a big draw after the closing of Thackeray's [bookstore]."

A thin stream of shoppers at the center yesterday was less excited.

"We don't need more big boxes," said Marie Kovach of Toledo. "I'd like to see it stay with small individual businesses.

"I like it the way it is," added Cathy Spohn, who lives in Temperance but works nearby and often patronizes the center over her lunch hour.

Neighborhood resident Carole Fuller said she often makes a day of shopping and grabbing a bite to eat. "I like not having to go into the [Westfield Franklin Park] mall," she said, adding that she was unlikely to shop at Costco.

"This has always been nice, upscale," said retiree Gary Ryan, a neighborhood resident who wondered why Costco didn't select other vacant retail sites nearby.

Pat Cannon, manager of Gen's Hallmark, said she would have preferred a redevelopment scheme patterned after the Town Center at Levis Commons in Perrysburg.

Still, she said the gift shop hopes to stay at Westgate, no matter what happens.

Joe Bassett of Bassett's Health Foods questioned how any of the existing center will remain standing given the huge size of Costco stores.

"I'm looking for alternate locations," said Mr. Bassett, who has been at Westgate since the early 1970s. "I can't afford to wait until the last minute."

Contact Gary Pakulski at:

gpakulski@theblade.com

or 419-724-6082.



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