Florida already is one of the highest-ranking states in the nation for “dead” Wal-Mart stores. As of today, there are 33 “available” Wal-Mart stores in Florida waiting to be leased out. Florida has a bad case of the “empty box syndrome”, and it looks like Wal-Mart is planning to empty out more. About 5 years ago, the company opened a supercenter on Route 50. Now they want to put one in Brooksville and in Spring Hill. According to the Hernando Today newspaper, elected officials showed “surprise and glee” that Wal-Mart would want to locate in Brooksville. “There are some concerns that it will affect small business around there,” Mayor Joe Johnston shrugged, “but I don’t really think it will impact them heavily.” Mayor Johnston did not give the address of the cave he lives in in Brooksville. Even the local newspaper sounded like a Wal-Mart press release, talking about how the superstore “would boost the tax rolls, swell impact fees, create jobs, and serve as a magnet for other businesses to move to Brooksville.” None of this is based on any economic impact study for Brooksville, but is just more ‘fuzzy math’ in some Wal-Mart or developer’s press release. The Mayor says the existing Wal-Mart has not led to “mass closings from surrounding businesses”, so he’s ready to work to bring them in. The Brooksville Planner has already blessed the project as “cut and dried”, which is what the store will do to many local businesses, especially the existing grocery stores. The Planner went on to say that this Wal-Mart is an “excellant plan” superior to the “sea of asphalt” existing location on Route 50. In Spring Hill, Florida, Wal-Mart has run into more opposition to it plan for a 207,000 s.f. superstore. That could have something to do with the minor detail that the company wants to build in a floodplain. A portion of the site where a detention pond is planned is zoned agricultural, and Wal-Mart needs a zoning change there to build. Wal-Mart has been pursuing this location in Spring Hill for almost three years, the newspaper says, and if the supercenter is built, the existing Wal-Mart discount store just one-quarter of a mile away will close, and go on the growing Wal-Mart list of “availabale stores” in Florida. Hernando County is ill-equipped to deal with this flood of supercenters. To date, the County’s only response was to pass a zoning ordinance that deals with landscaping and lighting, two issues Wal-Mart can easily deal with. For the time being, it looks like officials in Hernando County are still in the “surprise and glee” stage, and acting as it a Wal-Mart coming to their little towns is like being touched by Elvis. Citixens in Spring Hill are speaking out against the supercenter, since one Wal-Mart in their town is one more than enough.
I will say it again: Building a Wal-Mart superduper one quarter of a mile from an existing Wal-Mart is part of the Sam Walton saturation strategy (“We became our own competition”) but it just breeds empty boxes. Florida is ranked near the top in dead Wal-Marts. But this is how these dead stores come about. Local officials don’t question the developer’s mantra that “we’ve outgrown” our current store, some of which are twice the size of a football field. What Wal-Mart is relentlessly doing is hitting hard on the existing grocery stores. As companies in the south like Winn-Dixie contract, Wal-Mart grinds on as the top banana in grocery sales. The same with gasoline. Opening gas stations to pull jobs and taxes from existing gas stations. Where’s the gain for the local community? Are these just old jobs in new aprons? Hernando County is gleefully presiding over the cutting and drying of its small business sector. If they don’t believe me, let them commission an independent economic impact study, and then see if the glee is gone in Hernando County. Until such a study is done, all this talk about taxes and jobs is nothing more than voodoo economics, to quote the father of the Governor of Florida.