There's rarely a unanimous definition of progress when it comes to a community-altering project like the 142,000-square-foot Wal-Mart Supercenter that opened in Payson in January.
In a community such as Payson, which is constantly struggling to maintain its decidedly unmetropolitan identity, there are those who believe Wal-Mart's new all-things-to-all-people mega-mart was a step in the wrong direction.
But you'd have a hard time convincing Carol Downing of that.
For 19 years, Downing has been the executive director of the Show Low Chamber of Commerce. In that time, she said, nothing has had a more positive impact on her favorite Arizona mountain community than the Wal-Mart Supercenter that opened there last April.
"It's a real regional draw, an economic development draw all of its own," she said. "People come from 90 to 100 miles around, from New Mexico, Holbrook, Snowflake, Taylor, St. Johns, Springerville, Eagar, the White Mountain Apache reservation, Pinetop-Lakeside, Greer If you just go over there and look at the car license plates, you'll see how much of a draw it is."
And that fact doesn't just benefit Wal-Mart's cash drawers, Downing said.
"These visitors stop and get gas, stop at the restaurants, and stop and comparison-shop after they go to Wal-Mart. They go to the hardware store and J.C. Penny's and Payless and everywhere in between. So it helps the retailers as well.
"When Wal-Mart first came to town about 10 years ago, there were several businesses that went (under) because they weren't willing to compete. And for a time, right after plans for the Supercenter were first announced, there was some concern that it could hurt. But I haven't seen or heard of any retailers who've (closed) because of it."
At press time, Payson's Wal-Mart hadn't been open long enough to evaluate its effect on local businesses or retail sales tax revenues.
The Superstore does, however, employ 433 full- and part-time employees, nearly double the number of people who were employed in Payson's regular Wal-Mart.
The new Wal-Mart sells more of everything that could be found in the old, unsuper version, with the added features of a hair salon, vision center, bakery, deli, bank, liquor department, and every grocery item you'd find in a top-of-the-line supermarket.
March sales have been slow, local Wal-Mart Manager Becky Martinez said, but overall, sales have been good.
"I think there are people in town who are pretty dedicated to the other stores in town," she said. "We may have hurt them at first, but I think that's probably over now.
"There are many local stores that have built up loyalty that we may not be able to overcome, and that's good. That's called competition."
Among those stores is Ace Hardware. Before Wal-Mart opened, Ace owner John Patricia noted that the "Big Box" stores have a number of built-in drawbacks in their design.
"It's hard to get in and out of the parking lot. It's hard to find what you need. It's hard to find someone to help you find what you need.
"So, as long as people can zip into Ace Hardware, grab what they need, get the right information on how to use it, and zip back home, we're gonna do fine."
Two months later, Patricia's tune has not changed. "The new Wal-Mart has not affected me in any way, shape or form that I can tell," he said. "We were actually up a little (in sales) the first week or two they were open, but I don't want to rub anybody's nose in that."
Bob Mykleby, a manager at Bashas', said that "During the first couple of weeks" after the Supercenter opened, "it was pretty hard. But since then, the business has come back. It's not back full-throttle, but it's much better than we expected."