They call them “the towns that Wal-Mart killed twice.” When Wal-Mart arrives in a small town, it often shows up with its suitcase already packed. On the way in, Wal-Mart destroys smaller competing merchants, and then, when corporate headquarters decides its time to pull out, the damage occurs all over again as the dependent community loses its anchor retailer.
Articles have been written about communities like Hearne, Texas, or Nowata, Bixby and Pawhuska, Oklahoma — all communities that had a Wal-Mart discount store, but lost it when the retailer shut their store down to build a bigger venue just down the road. This scenario has happened hundreds of times across America, and since 1995 Wal-Mart has abandoned over 1,000 stores just to put up a larger store across the road. This company has exhibited the most environmentally wasteful building policy in the history of retailing. It has left America looking like a giant sprawling checkerboard of stores jumping over one another.
On December 3, 2006, Sprawl-Busters updated the story of residents in Pullman, Washington, who were engaged in a marathon legal battle to block a Wal-Mart supercenter in their community. In March of 2006, residents lost an appeal of a city ruling in favor of Wal-Mart before a Hearing Examiner, and took their appeal to Whitman County Superior Court. That court appeal went in Wal-Mart’s favor as well, but the battle continued.
At the end of 2006, The Pullman Alliance for Responsible Development (PARD) announced that it was taking its case against the proposed Pullman Wal-Mart to the 3rd District Court of Appeals in Spokane. On June 26, 2008, Sprawl-Busters reported that PARD was abandoning its legal battle to block Wal-Mart. But on June 13, 2009, Sprawl-Busters reported that Wal-Mart on its own had revising its plan by lopping off 68,000 s.f from its Pullman store, shrinking the store by roughly 30%, down to 155,000 s.f. The company told the newspaper that its decision to build a smaller footprint was not dictated by the faltering economy, but by “technological advances” that allow a smaller store to provide comparable service.
Wal-Mart described the smaller store as more “sustainable” in a news release, claiming the change will reduce traffic at nearby intersections and paved parking space by roughly a third. “We are committed to providing the Pullman community with a store design that addresses our commitment to sustainability while continuing to deliver on our promise to help people save money and live better,” Wal-Mart said in their press release.
Before the four plus years of pitched battles in Pullman, Washington, the city council in neighboring Moscow, Idaho was working to prevent their small community from being overwhelmed by giant stores. The current Mayor Nancy Chaney, was one of those who did not want a bigger store in Moscow. The existing store in Moscow, built in 1993, was not that old, and seemed perfectly functional. But with the opening of the larger Pullman supserstore just a few miles away, the Moscow store is certain to soon become just another ‘dark store’ in Wal-Mart Realty’s list of over 200 buildings for sale or lease. And its not at all clear that any other business will want a building that size. Wal-Mart won’t sell it to a competitor. So Moscow is likely to be stuck with a ghost box.
This week, the Moscow City Council sent a letter to Wal-Mart’s CEO Mike Duke, asking the retailer to keep its ‘small’ discount store open after the Pullman superstore opens later this year. The council told Duke that it was concerned about Moscow’s dependence on the store and the ‘inconvenience’ that will result if the discount store closes. The city council also raised its fears about lost jobs and tax revenues. The entire city council in Moscow signed the letter, urging Wal-Mart to remodel the Moscow store or even find another location instead of shutting it down.
One reader who commented on the newspaper story about the city council’s letter wrote, “Poor Moscow. Although its hard to feel sorry for them since Wal-Mart’s tendency to screw municipalities is well documented, after they get them to be willing partners in gutting long established downtown businesses. I can just see the Wal-Mart execs having a good laugh at that pathetic letter. Now Moscow has lots of empty commercial space, no tax revenue, and fewer members of the middle class. And everyone has to drive to Pullman from now on.”
But in the Moscow-Pullman Daily News, the editorial board published an editorial which attacked the Mayor. The Daily News stated, “Be careful what you wish for, it may come true… The city of Moscow is poised to lose its largest big-box store. And that’s not necessarily a good thing like some people believe. We don’t know for sure if the 93,000-square-foot Moscow Wal-Mart will close when the Wal-Mart Supercenter opens in Pullman later this year. Company officials are tight-lipped about the possibility – much as they were in the early 1990s when Moscow was being cased as a potential site for a store. Moscow officials courted the giant retailer and the business it would bring to Moscow. There was some opposition, but not to the extent of those who fought a Wal-Mart in Pullman.” According to the Daily News, the Moscow City Council used ‘creative zoning’ to stop a Wal-Mart supercenter from opening on the east side of Moscow.”
The newspaper goes on to lay the blame “toally and fully” and the feet of Mayor Nancy Chaney, a local attorney, and a baker at the local Food Co-op. “It is their fault that we don’t have a SuperStore in Moscow. Instead, Pullman will get the SuperStore and Moscow will lose our largest private employer.” The editorial board of the Moscow-Pullman Daily News has concluded that “It is another urban legend that Wal-Mart closes other stores. They do not compete with the same goods or the same clientele.” That will be good news to dying Wal-Mart competitors.
Wal-Mart has not tried to hide the reality of the closure of the Moscow discount store. A company spokesan said Wal-Mart is “relocating” the store to Pullman. But the local newspaper intepreted that to mean “one of two things: Either Walmart will assign the Moscow store number to the Pullman location and the Moscow store will remain open, or the Moscow store’s doors will be closed.” The local newspaper clearly can’t come to grips withi the reality of the impending loss.
Wal-Mart did not help matters when its spokesman added, “It’s up in the air as to everything with the transition. Until we decide, we’re sticking with that statement.” He created a buzz by suggesting that the 225 to 250 employees who work at the Moscow Walmart could lose their jobs or be transferred to the Pullman super center if the location closes. But local officials don’t have to look far for a reality check. Wal-Mart recently opened a super center in Clarkston, Washington, and shuttered its store in neighboring Lewiston, Idaho.
Moscow will lose $84,000 in property taxes and roughly $16,000 in personal property taxes when the discount store closes. That’s not a huge sum for any community, and other businesses are likely to be attracted to a Moscow without a Wal-Mart.
Readers are urged to email Moscow Mayor Nancy Chaney at [email protected] with the following message: “Dear Mayor Chaney, You’ve lived in Moscow for 30 years now. You’ve seen a lot of changes come and go. Wal-Mart arrives in Moscow with its bag already packed. You were right to insist that huge superstores were not consistent with the character of Moscow. And now Wal-Mart has made it clear that they have little regard for what happens financially to Moscow. They want their big store, or they will pull up stakes. It’s too bad that Moscow doesn’t have a surety bond that requires a retailer to pay for the cost of demolishing its building if it sits empty for 12 consecutive months — but perhaps that’s something you still have time to discuss with the city council. Wal-Mart has not made clear its plans for its ‘old’ building, so the city council is certainly justified in trying to protect its future by demanding a demolition bond for all large retailers. If Wal-Mart is going to abandon Moscow, at least let them tear down their building to prevent a blighted eyesore as their legacy.”