This week it was announced that Wal-Mart wants to expand its footprint in the city of St. Thomas, Ontario. St. Thomas, a city of 36,000 people, describes itself as “a city open for business… a city committed to economic development, committed to partnerships, and most important, a city strongly committed to the future.” Wal-Mart wants to become a larger part of that future. Wal-Mart has submitted plans to expand its 100,000 s.f. store on Talbot Street, into a 166,000 s.f. supercenter. The landowner ironically is a company called Smart Centres. Roughly 40,000 s.f. of the expansion would be for the sale of groceries. According to the St. Thomas Times-Journal, the Aldermen will hold a public meeting on this proposal on October 1st. But rather than take a hard look at what this expansion means, one Alderman was already trying to make little deals with Wal-Mart. Alderman Dave Warden asked, “Can we use this as a tool to get the buses to go in rather than staying outside? I know this has been a bone of contention in so far as the shelter is so far away,” he said. “Seniors have to walk across a big parking lot.” So much for due diligence.
The only group in St. Thomas that seems to be connecting the dots is the Downtown Development Board (DDB). “We want to get it out there that this would not be a good thing for downtown,” DDB administrator Karen Gordon told the Times-Journal. The Downtown Development Board plans to attend the St. Thomas council to express its opposition to the planned expansion of Wal-Mart. Gordon said the DDB believes the expansion will take business away from city core. The DDB is planning for a special board meeting on September 13th. at city hall to strategize what to present to members of the city council. Most Chambers of Commerce in the U.S. either hide when Wal-Mart comes to town, or enthusiastically sell out their smaller, local members by embracing Wal-Mart. It is refreshing to see a local business group speaking the truth about the impact Wal-Mart will have. Because St. Thomas already has a Wal-Mart, this expansion is only about market share for groceries. As Wal-Mart converts to a supercenter and grabs an increasing share of the retail pie for grocery sales, existing grocers in St. Thomas will lose share, lose revenues, and drop jobs. This is hardly a form of economic development. Readers are urged to send the City Council in St. Thomas an email, with the following message: “A bigger Wal-Mart in St. Thomas does not mean a bigger economic pie for St. Thomas, and it does not bring more jobs. Your grocery sector will only become more dominated by Wal-Mart, and local merchants will suffer. The DDB is right. Wal-Mart will not be good thing for downtown.” Cut and paste this URL to send your email message to City Councilors: http://www.elginconnects.ca/portal/site/comm/menuitem.5bdf242ce85f3eb954bef9201891ef9a/. Or email Mayor Cliff Barwick with the same message at: [email protected] You can call the Mayor and City Council at (519) 631-1680.