It’s not exactly what city officials can call a bargain for their taxpayers. Wal-Mart wants to build a huge supercenter in Lebanon, Oregon. But that means leaving behind their “old” store on Santiam Highway. Thanks to divine intervention, Wal-Mart has found someone to buy the store they will leave empty. According to the Oregon Democrat-Herald, a non-denominational church, called Lebanon Chapel, is willing to buy the 95,000 s.f. store. Since 1988, Wal-Mart has been systematically shutting down its existing discount stores, leaving many of them sitting on the market for years. Sometimes Wal-Mart realty has had 300 to 400 “dark stores” sitting unproductively by the roadside. Some residents in Lebanon were afraid that a dark store would not sell in their community, leaving the store open to blight and vandalism. But Pastor Keith Stroup of the Lebanon Chapel has rescued Wal-Mart, and will buy the Wal-Mart store, then lease it to the company until the supercenter is built. The new church will be 5 times larger than its current location. Wal-Mart would not reveal how much it sold the building for, but the store had a market value of $566,798. Ironically, the relief of having the church take over the building is offset by the financial bad news for the city. Wal-Mart was paying $10,444 in property taxes, and the non-profit church will pay nothing. Amy Hill, a spokesman for Wal-Mart admitted the company has 200 dead stores on its hands, but she claims in 2002 Wal-Mart Realty filled 15 million square feet with “new businesses” — like the non-revenue generating church. Although the Lebanon store will not be used for retail, Hill said most of the “smaller” stores (this one is more than two football fields in size) are taken over by retailers. That’s remarkable, since the Letter of Intent that Wal-Mart asks its potential buyers to sign restricts the use of the building for any discount store, warehouse club, or pharmacy. In other words, the world’s largest retailer puts restrictions to the free market into the standard lease or purchase agreement, a non-competitive protection for Wal-Mart. The retailer is being somewhat presumptuous here, because their Lebanon store is currently in the Oregon Court of Appeals, and no construction on the supercenter has started. If the superstore falls through, there is a clause in the Wal-Mart sales contract that voids the sale and gives the building back to Wal-Mart.
For more of the antics of Wal-Mart Realty, search Newsflash by the words “dark stores” or “empty stores”. Wal-Mart calls its Realty company “the Wal-Mart Nobody Knows”. Given this church story, maybe its just bette that way. Ora pro nobis.