As employees hurried to put the finishing touches on the new Walmart Super Center in Leesburg’s Compass Creek development, not everyone is celebrating the closure of the Edwards Ferry Road store.
The arrival of the Compass Creek store, scheduled to open this week, meant that the Edwards Ferry Road store would close. While that store’s closure may not have as big of an impact on its employees—all are transferring to the new store, in addition to 100 new associates, Walmart says—it is the community immediately surrounding the old store who many are concerned will be negatively impacted.
The Edwards Ferry Road store, opened in 1993, is in the Shenandoah Square shopping center, adjacent to Loudoun County’s Shenandoah building, where its health and human services programs are located, and within walking distance to many of Leesburg’s lower-income neighborhoods. Many residents in the area rely on their own two feet, rather than a car, to get around, and on the Walmart to do their shopping. The county government has added a new bus stop to bring shoppers and employees to the new store on the outskirts of town, but some question if that approach goes far enough.
One of the most vocal critics in recent weeks has been Leesburg Councilman Ron Campbell, who has said he would not attend Wednesday’s scheduled ribbon-cutting ceremony at the new store. Campbell said he believes the town could have done more to keep the Edwards Ferry store open.
“The town doesn’t have a right to decide whether a business should stay here or go there. But it does have a position to take about how those businesses really help our community,” Campbell said.
He pointed to how many nearby residents rely on the store location for an affordable option for groceries, medication and more. Campbell also took issue with how the town has negotiated—or not—with Loudoun County on its Joint Land Management Area, where the new Walmart will be located. The town and county are in the preliminary stages of considering a boundary line adjustment that would bring the Compass Creek development into town limits.
“Our responsibility for leadership is to protect the interests of our town. And we have no solution—the town has no solutions. The county’s solution is one unreliable bus route,” he said.
Others are taking a more wait-and-see approach, including Jennifer Montgomery, executive director of Loudoun Hunger Relief, the county’s main food pantry.
“We will have to see what kind of impact [the Edwards Ferry store closure] has to be able to respond accordingly,” she said. “We’re working together to make sure people can access the services on the other side of town.”
Montgomery lauded the county government and nonprofits’ outreach efforts to let the residents know about the store closure and how to access the new store. In addition to creating the new bus route, the county government also put together an online directory of other grocers within a one-mile radius of the Edwards Ferry store.
Speculation has already begun on what will become the new anchor of the Shenandoah Square development, one that many see as having great redevelopment potential. Walmart, which owns the 96,000-square-foot building, another 20,000 square feet of retail space connected to it and the center’s parking lot, has remained mum on its plans for the space, declining to comment on who it is looking to fill the storefront.
While not offering comment about Walmart specifically, Leesburg Economic Development Director Russell Seymour said anytime the town loses a business, the goal is to see it replaced with one that provides similar services.
“If we can’t keep them in the town, what we try to do is fill that space so the town is not in a net loss. We try to replace it with something that can have that same value to those local residents when we can,” he said.
But Seymour was quick to emphasize, “We don’t have the ability to dictate what goes in there.”
Mayor Kelly Burk said she has personally had conversations with two different developers who are very interested in the property and has helped facilitate conversations between those developers and Walmart. She said she plans to attend the new store’s ribbon-cutting ceremony to continue to help make those connections.
“We haven’t been sitting on our hands,” she said of the town’s approach. “As a town, we don’t want [the Edwards Ferry building] to be vacant; we want it to be something. It might be something different than what is there now, it might be a different version, but it’s something we’re very concerned about and we’re trying to work with Walmart and the development community.”
But Burk acknowledged the property’s future is out of the town government’s hands.
“In the end it’s the decision of Walmart and the development community,” she said.