Despite widespread evidence in Canada that Wal-Mart stores get their sales mostly from existing merchants, some communities continue to allow them in. Since early October, residents in Salmon Arm, British Columbia have learned that Wal-Mart Canada wants to build a store in their little town. According to the Salmon Arm Observer, Wal-Mart claims they have “received requests for a local store.” Wal-Mart’s words were: “We are looking at Salmon Arm as a potential market.” If someone in Salmon Arm is addicted to Wal-Mart, they can find them in Vernon, Kamloops and Kelowna. The Mayor of Salmon Arm, Colin Mayes, says the town is losing shoppers to these other towns. He admits that Wal-Mart will bring challenges to local merchants, but “we also recognize we will draw people out of Revelstoke and Chase,” the Mayor noted. “I really believe you can’t stop it.” This week, the Mayor also announced that Wal-Mart has an option on land owned by the Adams Lake Indian Band. This means that Salmon Arm would not collect taxes from the project. Wal-Mart has told the media that Salmon Arm needs a Wal-Mart because its check of credit card purchases at the Kamloops store shows that people from Salmon Arm shop at the Wal-Mart. The Lakeshore News reported that when the Wal-Mart opened in Vernon, one Salmon Arm businessman lost a third of his sales. But the advent of Wal-Mart within Salmon Arm will mean a greater loss of sales at other merchants. The new Wal-Mart opening in Cranbook, for example, will capture sales from existing businesses, according to a study by Vancouver based Thomas Consultants. According to the Thomas Consultants study, two existing grocery stores in Cranbrook each stand to lose five percent of their sales to Wal-Mart — more than $1 million and $2.4 million a year, respectively. The Royal Canadian Wholesale Club would be even more adversely affected, with 15%, or $2.4 million, a year lost to Wal-Mart. All told, Wal-Mart is expected to take away almost $5 million a year from major Cranbrook grocery stores — without even offering full grocery service. “Wal-Mart presents a direct threat to our members’ jobs because they will blow them out of business,” says a spokesman from the United Food and Commercial workers. whose union represents grocery workers at Safeway, Overwaitea, Extra Foods, IGA, and SuperValu, as well as members at Zellers, Hudson’s Bay Co., Canadian Tire, Grand & Toy, and Shoppers Drug Mart. “On the one hand, it’s going to put our people out of work, and on the other hand, it’s going to ruin the communities they live in.” Another study shows that when a new Wal-Mart opens a 105,000 s.f. store in Courtenay next year, the existing grocery will lose $2.3 million a year, according to a study conducted by Vancouver-based Urbanics Consultants commissioned by a Courtenay group called Coalition for a Healthy Community, which opposed Wal-Mart’s rezoning application. The Courtenay study in 2000 also concluded that up to 81% of Wal-Mart’s sales, or almost $18 million a year, would come from existing Courtenay-Comox retailers. “All Comox Valley retailers are likely to feel some impact, in terms of reduced sales, as a result of the opening of Wal-Mart, either directly or indirectly,” the study said. In total, the equivalent of 122 to 162 full-time retail jobs in the Courtenay area “could be lost or transferred to a lower wage structure as a result of the opening of Wal-Mart,” Urbanics concluded.
The Mayor of Salmon Arm will find that Wal-Mart leaves him with a weakened downtown business district, and an inferior quality of life, which Wal-Mart cannot sell back to the town. Unfortunately, the experience of other towns in Canada has only suggested to the Mayor that he should be busy trying to steal sales from other nearby towns — until those nearby towns get their own Wal-Marts and leave Salmon Arm to feed upon itself.