Try, try again. That’s been the Wal-Mart mantra for many years. Like an unwelcomed suitor, Wal-Mart often goes back to communities that have rejected their advances at least once. On June 29, 2005, Sprawl-Busters reported that after years of fighting a Wal-Mart supercenter, residents of Vancouver, British Columbia celebrated a slam-dunk. According to one local resident who wrote Sprawl-Busters at the time, “The citizens of Vancouver scored an impressive victory against big box sprawl types of development, and Wal-Mart in particular when our city council listened to its citizens’ concerns and voted 8-3 to oppose Wal-Mart’s attempt to locate a store on Vancouver’s fringes. This was an incredible victory that took 4 years of citizen activism and the election of a progressive civic government in between, which certainly helped when the development application finally came before council. Wal-Mart tried to appear politically correct by offering to build a “green” store, with a special design (standard line they use) just for Vancouver. The store would have had a windmill on the roof and natural light, but the architects could not design away the size of the building and the major traffic tie ups that come with superstores — even “green” ones. When the votes were counted, it wasn’t even close. Mayor Larry Campbell, who voted for the retailer, may now pay the price politically for tying his future to an American economic colonialist. Wal-Mart can take comfort, however, in the fact that size played a greater role than the logo on the building, because Vancouver also rejected a Canadian Tire store on a nearby parcel recently. This proposal was offered by First Pro, the same developer that has Stratford, Ontario tied up in knots. A spokesman for First Pro told the Vancouver Sun he was “flabbergasted and stunned” that council rejected the proposal after the city’s planning staff had supported the plan. But if Wal-Mart had looked around at the hundreds of people against the plan, they would not have been stunned. Councilor Anne Roberts, who lobbied against the plan, told the Sun that south Vancouver “is not a throw-away zone for big-box retail.” Councilor Tim Louis called Wal-Mart “one of the world’s largest corporate criminals,” and said the store’s “green” fa??ade was just a skin-deep change. “A munitions factory with a windmill is still a munitions factory,” Louis said. The Mayor tried to appease residents by saying Vancouver could have made their Wal-Mart into the first unionized store in Canada. But after suffering defeat in Vancouver, Wal-Mart Canada did not go away. Today, roughly three and a half years after their defeat, the giant retailer is opening a superstore — it’s first in the Vancouver market — at the site of an old Costco building near Grandview and Broadway Street. Wal-Mart Canada’s new CEO, David Cheesewright, told the Vancouver Sun that Wal-Mart is still keeping to its production schedule of new stores in Canada. “I wouldn’t say [the recession] is good news for anybody,” Cheesewright told the newspaper. “It’s a myth to say that people are unaffected by a recession that’s as deep as the one we’re in. But if you had to be in business in these sorts of times, you want to be in the discount business, a business that’s offering good value for money.” Cheesewright takes the helm of Wal-Mart Canada as of February 1st. He says sales in Canada have been better than Wal-Mart stores in America. “As I say to my team here,” Cheesewright explained, “If I could be anywhere in the world, I’d like to be in Canada.” North of the border, Wal-Mart is emphasizing the twin themes of “great prices and green business.” Cheesewright conjured up Wal-Mart’s difficult past in Vancouver when he admitted to the Sun that “cracking the Vancouver market has been a tough job,” the newspaper said. According to the Sun, Wal-Mart suffered a “very public and political rejection of its proposed development on Southeast Marine Drive in 2005.” Instead, Wal-Mart had to retreat to a less controversial site already developed by another retailer. Wal-Mart admitted it had to spend “many tens of millions” tearing down the old Costco store back to a “bare box,” and rebuilding it to meet Wal-Mart specifications. So Wal-Mart had to settle for its second choice — for now.
Not content to finally have a store opening tomorrow in Vancouver, Wal-Mart Canada’s CEO is still preoccupied with the first site his company landed on. Cheesewright told the Vancouver Sun that the retailer still has plans to build on the Southeast Marine Drive site, but they will have to come up with a plan that differs from the one that was rejected in 2005. “We want to make sure we take our time and get the right store there,” Cheesewright said. “There isn’t a timeline at the moment.” Wal-Mart first announced its plans to locate at a second site in Vancouver in early May of 2008. Wal-Mart said it planned to take over an existing Costco store on Grandview Highway and “refit” the roughly 123,000 s.f. space. “We are really thrilled to have found a way to serve Vancouver and do it by reusing an existing building,” a Wal-Mart spokesman said. But one community activist, Louise Seto, told CBS news that Wal-Mart would not give up on its original site. “Unfortunately the big-box zoning down there [on Grandview Highway] has most of the market, so it impedes the development of neighborhood shopping,” she said. Seto said the second site was just Wal-Mart’s way of gaining a foothold into the market, and that it’s just a matter of time before the retail giant would make another try for its Southeast Marine Drive. Wal-Mart never denied she was right. “We’ll walk through that door when the time is right,” a Wal-Mart official told CBS, “and we think we have a really solid proposal.” Readers are urged to email Vancouver’s new Mayor, Gregor Robertson, at [email protected] with the following message: “Dear Mayor Robertson, You founded Happy Planet with a sense of social responsibility, producing organic juices, and buying from family farms. Wal-Mart represents the Unhappy Planet, where workers are exploited, produce is purchased in Chinese sweatshops, and locally-owned businesses suffer. They are at odds with all your work on sustainable farming and forest practices. You now have one Wal-Mart, which promised to ‘refit’ the Costco building — but ended up tearing it down. But they still have plans to eventually try to open a second store on Southeast Marine Drive. Now is the time for Vancouver to do something sustainable: pass a cap limiting the size of retail stores to 75,000 s.f. Make sure that Vancouver’s future is not boxed in by superstores. The store on Grandview is the size of two football fields under one roof. Protect your neighborhoods, because these projects are anti-pedestrian, anti-neighborhood, and environmentally unsustainable. Vancouver can do better.”