Like many other California communities, Kerman, California is a small town with dreams of big revenues. Kerman tries to market itself to tourists as a unique destination — yet it is courting a very undistinguished retailer. Kerman is located deep in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley. A city of roughly 14,000 people, Kerman is a small farming community, but it likes to think of itself as ‘one of the fastest growing cities’ in central California, and the commercial center for Western Fresno County. Despite pressures from growth, Kerman boasts that it “remains true to its agricultural roots.” It’s a small community with “friendly people and inviting neighborhoods.” One of the company’s that recently invited itself into Kerman’s neighborhood is Wal-Mart. There are already six Wal-Mart stores within 25 miles of Kerman, including a Wal-Mart in Fresno 12 miles away. The proposed Wal-Mart in tiny Kerman would be the first supercenter in the area. The rest of Wal-Mart’s stores are all discount stores with no full-line grocery section. According to radio station KFSN, Wal-Mart has given city planners a proposal for a 150,000 s.f. superstore on the edge of town. The radio station reported this week that “there’s concern the proposed store… would suck up all the business, for miles around.” The station interviewed on Kerman resident who said, “Yeah, I like it. Because usually we have to drive all the way to Fresno to drive to go to Wal-Mart just for diapers.” Kerman’s City Manager is pushing the project on economic grounds. “So you’re talking about maybe a couple hundred full time jobs, a hundred part time jobs, you’re talking about maybe a half a million dollars in sales tax, we don’t even generate a full million dollars in sales tax now.” But the City Manager has no analysis that examines the net economic impact of another large chain store that sells cheap underwear and bananas. One local merchant who owns a hardware store, a bar, and property downtown, warned KFSN, “Our town is built on family, and Wal-Mart is not part of our family.” Businesswoman Susan Lanfranco understands how ‘Wal-Math’ works, because its not taught in Kerman schools. “They say they are going to come up with 300 jobs and I’ve done all the math, by the time we all close, they’ll net 25. So, how do we come out winners?” Another merchant who has looked behind Wal-Marts’ press release, Gary Yep, who owns Valey Food Super Center, see mostly negative numbers for his small community. “I believe the downtown area will suffer. I think a lot of the businesses will lose between 20 and 40 percent of their retail sales.” Yep fears that city officials are prepared to give Wal-Mart tax incentives and other forms of corporate welfare that other businesses in the city will have to subsidize. He told KFSN that any incentives ought to be targeted to small businesses to encourage them to remain open.
Nothing is going to happen overnight in Kerman. Under the California Environmental Quality Review Act, Wal-Mart is in the middle of producing an environmental impact study, which could take about nine months to submit. After that report is submitted, if city officials approve the environmental impact report (EIR), the neighbors can still challenge the findings in court, as many other California communities have already done. As of August, 2009, Wal-Mart has only 37 supercenters in California, and 138 discount stores. Compared to a state like Texas, California is starved for superstores. In Texas, there is one Wal-Mart superstore for every 78,474 residents. By contrast, in California, there is one Wal-Mart superstore for every 980,120 residents. Texas has 65% of California’s population, but eight times as many Wal-Mart superstores. The Golden State has not been golden for Wal-Mart. On May 15, 2002, Sprawl-Busters reported that Wal-Mart had announced plans to open as many as 40 supercenters in California over the next four to six years. “Wal-Mart is committed to lowering the price of groceries for California consumers, just as we have for consumers around the country,” said Tom Coughlin, former president and chief executive officer of the Wal-Mart Stores division, who was later ousted by the retailer. Seven years after that prediction, Wal-Mart has not reached its 40th supercenter in California — which it said it would reach by 2006. The fact is, the small trade area of Kerman shoppers does not need another Wal-Mart. The area is already saturated with Wal-Marts. If this Kerman store opens, some of the other nearby discount stores will be shut down, and sit empty for years. Readers are urged to email Kerman Mayor Trinidad Rodriguez at [email protected] with the following message: “Dear Mayor Rodriguez, One of the first things your city promotes about itself is its ‘old world charm.’ I fail to see any old world charm in a 150,000 s.f. Wal-Mart supercenter. Your city manager sounds like a Wal-Mart press release when he talks about jobs and taxes. What kind of net job impact will your see if Kerman’s U Save, Jerry’s Foodland, and Valley Food Super Center close? A study several years back by Retail Forward predicted that for every Wal-Mart superstore that opened, two area grocery stores would close. This Wal-Mart proposal should not be embraced with the same enthusiasm that would greet a small manufacturer, or light industry. These firms add value to the local economy, but Wal-Mart gets most of its sales from existing cash registers. Kerman should insist that Wal-Mart underwrite the cost of an independent environmental impact report, using a consultant chosen by the city. Without that, you will get a study which says Wal-Mart’s plans are above-average and good-looking. The fact is: Kerman is already saturated with retail stores. Your population base is still only 14,000 people, and the only way Wal-Mart can survive in Kerman is by cannibalizing other merchants — and its own stores. Kerman should pass up the chance to steal sales from other merchants and neighboring cities, and look for some real economic growth instead.”