There are no less than 20 Wal-Mart stores within 25 miles of Wrentham, Massachusetts. Only two of those stores are supercenters, but anyone resident addicted to cheap Chinese take out can find a Wal-Mart roughly 8 miles away in Walpole and another in Bellingham. But it looks like there won’t be a supercenter in Wrentham, a community with less than 11,500 people. According to the Attleboro Sun Chronicle, there had been rumors for several years that Wal-Mart wanted to build in Wrentham. But the Town Planner this week allayed any concerns of a Walmartians coming to Wrentham. “I hear Wal-Mart is not coming to town,” the Town Planner told the Chronicle. “I never saw anything official. Unofficially, I have been told they have abandoned” any plans. Wrentham does not seem like the kind of small town that would embrace sprawl. The town says of itself: “Regardless of the reason for, or the duration of, your life’s intersection with Wrentham, we sincerely hope that you feel the warmth, generosity, and kindness of our people, the vigor of our uniquely New England form of democracy, the satisfaction we get from conserving the gentle beauty of our meadows, woodlands, lakes, and streams, and the simple joy that derives from being part of it all. It is New England pure and simple.” That’s hardly a come-on for big box concrete and asphalt. The rumors had focused on land off Route 1A near the Wrentham Village Premium Outlets, near a BJs warehouse club. There is commercial land across form the outlet malls, but according to the town planner, retail buildings on that site are limited to 37,500 s.f. It seems the residents of Wrentham have not caught Big Box Fever, and voted several years back not to lift the size limit on that property. At the time, the voters stopped a supermarket from locating across from the outlets — and they may very well have prevented a Wal-Mart superstore as well.
A Wal-Mart superstore would have brought no added value to Wrentham, since most of its sales would have been drawn from merchants that already are doing business in the town, especially grocery stores. There are 39 Wal-Mart discount stores in Massachusetts, and only 7 supercenters. The company’s goal is to convert all the discount stores into the more profitable supercenter format. If a supercenter had been built in Wrentham, the nearby discount stores in Walpole and Bellingham might have been closed. There is only one Wal-Mart “dark store” in Massachusetts — a 117,000 s.f. store in the town of Natick. But as Wal-Mart tries to build more supercenters in Massachusetts, more properties will be at risk of becoming “ghost boxes.” Readers are urged to email Mary Dunn, Chairman of Wrentham’s Board of Selectman, at [email protected] with this message: “Dear Chairman Dunn, I was glad to hear that rumors of an impending Wal-Mart application in Wrentham has been quashed. The town does not need more big box sprawl, and any of your constituents who must have cheap Chinese imports can find them in Walpole or Bellingham — without bringing all the traffic and crime to Wrentham. I would urge you to lead an effort to put a size limit on retail stores on any commercial site in Wrentham. You are going to see a string of big box stores filing applications that are too big for your small town, and which add no real value to your economy. These stores do not create new jobs, and they do little or nothing to your property tax rate. The sales tax goes to the General Fund. Wrentham justifiably boasts of the ‘gentle beauty of our meadows, woodlands, lakes, and streams, and the simple joy that derives from being part of it all. It is New England pure and simple.” There is no such thing as a village supercenter. You can’t buy small town quality of life on any Wal-Mart shelf, but once they take it from you, you can’t buy it back at any price. Take your 37,000 s.f. retail cap that applies to the land across from the outlet stores, and put a cap across all your commercial districts. And while you are at it, place a ban on overnight hours for any new store that abuts residential property. More big boxes are coming, even if you dodged the Wal-Mart bullet for now. Use this good news to tighten up your zoning code, before more boxes arrive.”