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Plans for 2nd area Wal-Mart talk of the town in Fort Mill

Above, a look inside the new Tega Cay Wal Mart. At top, an exterior view of the new store.
Above, a look inside the new Tega Cay Wal Mart. At top, an exterior view of the new store.

FORT MILL -- The gossip and rumors that have flown around Esther's Hairstyling as hot as hair dryers for the past 35 years can be categorized as some true, some not.

But the chatter from the beauties with fresh-cut curls and skilled stylists this week is true: Wal-Mart is coming to Fort Mill.

Less than a week after a Wal-Mart Supercenter opened 5 miles away in Tega Cay, the nation's largest retailer this week purchased about 33 acres at the intersection of Flint Hill Road and U.S. 21. A Wal-Mart spokeswoman confirmed the discount home goods store and grocer hopes to open a Supercenter there in late 2010. The plan, reported Thursday morning at heraldonline.com, would bring the number of Wal-Marts either completed or planned in York County to six.

"We're all talkin' about it," Esther Buchanan, owner of Esther's Hairstyling on Flint Hill Road for the past 35 years, said Thursday afternoon while clipping hair. Her salon is directly across Flint Hill Road from the Wal-Mart property.

"I grew up next door. Watched them build I-77 and Carowinds. I've seen a lot of things change."

Wal-Mart promises to bring with it even more changes. Trees will be cut down. Other businesses likely will follow the blue-and-gray gravy train. The already heavy traffic will surely increase.

"The main problem is what are they gonna do with the roads," Buchanan asked, noting sections of U.S. 21 and Flint Hill Road are only two lanes. She said at least a middle turn lane will be needed on Flint Hill, maybe four or five lanes on U.S. 21.

"But it's not all bad. I'm sure it will be good for business," she said. "Everybody goes to Wal-Mart."

That's why Wal-Mart is expanding in York County. More people means more customers. Tara Stewart, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman, said Wal-Mart stores follow rooftops. As population increases, so does Wal-Mart's presence.

In York County, one of the fastest-growing in the state, Wal-Mart is tripling its presence this decade. During the past five years, the discount giant has unveiled plans to build Supercenters in the county's booming areas: Tega Cay, which opened last week, Newport, Lake Wylie and now Fort Mill.

But that progress has been received with controversy, especially in Tega Cay. Wal-Mart, residents and city officials there tussled over the building's specifications for three years. The controversy turned to compromise, which finally resulted in a store with a facade that resembled a downtown Main Street more than Wal-Mart's traditional big-box appearance.

The Fort Mill Wal-Mart property is in an unincorporated part of the county -- and in a section already zoned for major retail -- but plans for the development still will have to be approved by county officials. Some residents are sure to voice their concerns.

Though he's disappointed Wal-Mart didn't meet with neighbors before it purchased the land, Mike Sexton, president of the homeowners' association at the 1,100-home Regent Park neighborhood, said working together might prevent unnecessary bickering.

"It seems the community always ends up hearing about these things after the fact," Sexton said. "I'm a firm believer that if you're not at the table as a part of the conversation, then you're on the menu. We want to be involved."

Sexton, who noted rumors of Wal-Mart's interest in the area have circulated for several years, said his initial concerns include how York County will handle the increased traffic and provide adequate law enforcement as the store's crowds come to the area.

"You're just opening up the door to a lot of issues," he said.

But Martin Miller, a barber at Esther's and a Tega Cay resident, said it's possible for everyone to walk away with a smile. He said asking Wal-Mart to build responsibly, design a store that fits in with its surroundings and help pay for infrastructure, just like in Tega Cay, will make the development a success.

"It turned out to be a good move for Tega Cay, and it will be a good move for this area, too," he said. "I moved here six years ago, and I can't believe how much it's changed. But you can't stop progress. You've just got to make the most of it."

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