By Tim Unruh

The Salina Journal

ELLSWORTH -- While some in Ellsworth are bracing to compete with a planned Walmart Express in the small town, others are rejoicing an expected dose of competition in the local economy.

April McElroy said she has compared prices and Walmart is "hands down" worth two to three trips a week to Salina for groceries and other supplies.

"It still saves us money to shop at Walmart in Salina," she said.

So having a Walmart Express in Ellsworth will save her family even more and provide tax revenue locally.

As of right now, McElroy said, "We can't afford to shop in Ellsworth."

April and her husband, Dave McElroy, buy from other stores in Salina, as well.

She mentioned saving enough money on 10 loaves of day-old bread at a Dillons store in Salina to pay for the cost of transportation.

Opposition to a Walmart Express formed last week after confirmation from the giant retailer that such a store, complete with a pharmacy, fuel and groceries was coming to the town of roughly 3,000 people.

April McElroy has lived 10 years in Ellsworth. Dave McElroy, a native of the town, works at Great Plains Manufacturing in Ellsworth. April is a stay-at-home mom who home-schools their four children.

"We love our local businesses," April McElroy said, "but both my husband and I feel there has been no competition, no need to lower prices or have products available."

The bane on local retailers, she said, is a lack of customer service, product choice or availability, and product quality. The McElroys do use dental services in Ellsworth, but the family attends church and receives other health care in Salina, a 40-minute drive away.

"It's not so much the issue of price but the way customers are treated," April McElroy said. "They're using Walmart as a scapegoat."

Market cornered

McElroy said she's most concerned for the people in Ellsworth who don't have the ability to drive to another town.

Ellsworth businesses have "had the market cornered for so long that they've gotten the point that they can do what they want," McElroy said. "That's the business running the economy, not the consumer."

Meanwhile, the anti-Walmart group is gearing up to fight the Walmart Express construction, which reportedly will be built on land just north of the Kansas Highway 140 and Kansas Highway 156 intersection. Owner Mark Shaw said Tuesday that he was still not aware of what entity is buying the land.

Opposed to Walmart

"We're going to try to put up a letter in stores, to have people sign, that we plan to send to the Walmart corporate office, to let them know we do no want Walmart to come into our town," said Kris Finke, owner of Finke's Liquor in Ellsworth.

"I don't think it's going to do anything, but at least it's something," she said.

Terry Kepka, owner of Seitz Drug in Ellsworth, said it's a "foregone conclusion" that a Walmart Express is coming to town.

He intends to put up a sign at his store that reads "Same co-pay. Better service."

Kepka's concern is prescription benefit managers who are employed by insurance carriers and who designate huge stores such as Walmart, Walgreens and CVS Pharmacies as "preferred providers," and charge no co-pay to some groups of patients, such as those on Medicare.

"I can't compete with preferential treatment, but I'm not going to roll over and die," Kepka said. "We'll hang on as long as we can, and hopefully, people will go up and realize it's not the best thing since sliced bread."

Others are supportive

April McElroy said more than her family are in favor of a Walmart Express. A "Bring Walmart to Ellsworth" page on Facebook on Tuesday had 342 Likes. An online petition on change.org contains 47 supporters.

McElroy referred to signs on the outskirts of town that read "Ellsworth is growing. Join us."

"Our daughter says those signs are lying," April McElroy said. "We should be for growth, for change, or in 50 years we may end up like Geneseo."

(c)2014 The Salina Journal