West Covina is a California community with around 112,000 residents. The city’s stated mission is to “strive to be a balanced and economically viable community.” City officials say that the city is substantially “built out” with few major vacant development sites remaining. There isn’t much industrial activity, and the city admits that “retail merchandising is the principal business activity.” Large corporations have been attracted to the San Gabriel Valley.
One of those ‘large corporations’ that was attracted to West Covina was Wal-Mart. Within 15 miles of the city, there are no less than 13 existing Wal-Mart stores, including 8 supercenters, of which 2 are within 5 miles: a Wal-Mart superstore in the City of Industry, and a Wal-Mart supercenter 2 miles away in Covina. There is absolutely no market need for another superstore in the area.
But city leaders in West Covina can’t see beyond their own political borders, and are apparently exited by the prospect of one more superfluous store. According to the Los Angeles Times, West Covina Mayor Mike Touhey believes the new Wal-Mart will bring much needed jobs. “The job growth is good because we lost a similar amount of jobs when Mervyns closed in late 2008.”
The Wal-Mart planned for West Covina will be a 120,000 s.f. superstore — far smaller than the 200,000 s.f. superstores the retailer built five years ago — but still much larger than the urban format stores it is now building elsewhere in California. In this case, the land Wal-Mart wants is in a mall called Eastland Center, in a space once occupied by a Mervyns department store — one of the department store chains killed off by Wal-Marts.
A spokesman for Wal-Mart told The Times, “When you look around at the surrounding area, local residents are always looking for affordable shopping options. We think our store can be part of the solution for West Covina residents.” The reality is that West Covina is choking with retail stores, and the proposed Wal-Mart will capture most of its sales from existing merchants in the area — including Wal-Mart’s own existing superstores. The Mayor has described this project as “job growth,” but Wal-Mart’s impact so far on West Covina has been to cause job loss, as witnessed by the empty Mervyn’s.
According to The Times, some local residents have already told the City Council they intend to protest and boycott the store when it opens. The city’s response is that the Eastland Mall is already commercially zoned, so residents can’t stop the store from opening. But this is shorthand for saying: we don’t want to put up any roadblocks to this kind of development.
Wal-Mart has been expanding its Neighborhood Markets, which are around 30,000 s.f. in places like Huntington Beach, where Wal-Mart is taking over space from a dead Rite Aid, and a major battle has surrounded a similar Wal-Mart plan in Los Angeles’ Chinatown neighborhood.
An industry analyst told The Times, “Retailers once opened a lot of stores in rural areas because that is where people were going. Now as people move back to the city for higher-paying jobs or lower commuting times, they are trying to get into cities.” More to the point, Wal-Mart has super-saturated rural markets, and needs to turn to smaller formats to get into urban areas because available lot sizes are much smaller. Wal-Mart often goes after vacant stores they have killed off, tearing down the ‘old’ stores and building a new one.
Readers are urged to contact West Covina’s Mayor Mike Touhey at [email protected] with the following message:
“Dear Mayor Touhey,
I was disappointed to see you describe a proposed Wal-Mart superstore at Eastland as “job growth.” You have been a small business owner in West Covina for nearly 35 years. You have watched the national chain stores kill off the Mom and Pop stores, and the small chains, like Mervyn’s. Companies like Wal-Mart have surrounded your community with big boxes, and cost you hundreds of jobs.
West Covina already has 13 Wal-Marts within 15 miles. This is not a form of economic development — you are just cannibalizing stores like Vons, Food 4 Less, Albertson’s, Stater Brothers, and the locally owned grocery stores. Local residents have already told you they will boycott this location, because it adds absolutely no added value economically to your community.
Use your influence to look carefully at the traffic impacts of this new project — because it will be significantly more intense than the old Mervyn’s, and have a negative impact on surrounding neighborhood residential values. You say you are trying to create a balanced and viable community. Welcoming more big box stores is not the way to do that.”
City officials say that the city is substantially “built out” with few major vacant development sites remaining. There isn’t much industrial activity, and the city admits that “retail merchandising is the principal business activity.” Large corporations have been attracted to the San Gabriel Valley.