Big and small retail can work together

There are still those nay-sayers around who hate Walmart and wont set foot in the store. They believe that a well-stocked merchandise establishment which sells things at low prices will wipe out the economy of small towns -- among other things.

The prosperity of Kennett Square in recent years shows that a vital small town can live side-by-by side with a big box store and still succeed.

It can happen in Oxford as well, if the town leaders take positive steps (as they have been) to make it an attractive destination for restaurants, shops and special events.

True, it takes a lot of elbow grease and creativity, but the Oxford Arts Alliance and nearby Avon Grove Community Theater group have shown that the energy to make things happen surely lives in southern Chester County.

The opening last week of Liberty Place on State Street in Kennett Square is a strong example of a retail establishment that shows all the signs of being unaffected by a Walmart just east of town.

It was the brainchild of entrepreneur and former school superintendent Larry Bosley, who saw places like the Reading Market in Philadelphia and the market in Ardmore and realized Kennett Square could support something similar.

He gave it months of his energy and inventiveness, turning the old Alvins store into a destination that will eventually (probably soon) attract people not only from down the street but from out of town.

Liberty Place does not make any attempt to sell basic goods that people are most likely to get at a big box discount store. Customers wont find tools, dinnerware, blue jeans, towels and the like at this newly opened center.

Instead, they will enter a building and find an environment that makes them feel good.

The will see local art. They can get a cheese steak. They can buy quality fish for dinner. They can sit down.

The place invites them in and appeals to their senses. Once the customers get in there, they can hang out, talk to people and enjoy themselves.

Granted, when someone needs a towel, a pot or a restocking of economical cosmetics, they can be well satisfied at Walmart. There is, however, no incentive to stick around, have fun or feel at home.

Liberty place, on the other hand, is a kind of non-alcoholic Cheers. And in a world where people are bombarded with quick fixes and impersonal merchandising, this mini-food and culture mart offers relief. It can soothe the soul.

One thing that Bosley and his son, Geoff, did was pay attention to detail. True, they took longer than they expected to open, but they wanted it to be right, and they took the time.

They also made an effort to offer quality food and merchandise. When people stop in at Liberty Place, they can expect to get good stuff.

Oxford and its nearby towns can do the same thing, that is, live with and even thrive with Walmart nearby.

It needs the planning, the imagination and the financial investment. But it can be done.

Just as Walmart fills a need for quick shopping, exciting and imaginative centers like Liberty Place feed the soul and the senses -- and it is well needed.