On May 17, 2008, Sprawl-Busters reported that in the early 1990s, the Mayor of Granite City, Illinois made headlines when he took the names of 2,000 local residents who wanted a Wal-Mart store in Granite City down to the corporation’s headquarters in Arkansas. The Mayor ended up getting his store — but a little more than a decade later, the current Mayor of the city received a stack of letters too — but this time from residents who don’t want the existing Wal-Mart expanded into a superstore. In addition to their discount store on W. Pontoon Road in the Granite City, the retailer also has a supercenter 8 miles away in Colllinsville, Illinois, and has a total of 14 stores within a 20 mile drive of the city. The proposal to expand the current Wal-Mart into a supercenter in Granite City has pushed some residents over the wall. In early May, the Granite City Press-Record carried a photo of anti-Wal-Mart activists, organized into a group called Granite City First, submitting a long scroll of names to the city clerk. The newspaper reported that the group delivered 3,056 letters of opposition to the supercenter to Mayor Hagnauer’s office. “Wal-Marts are bad for any community,” one of the opponents told the Press-Record. “When unions try to unionize them, they shut them down. They are unfair to workers. They don’t pay enough, and they take away from smaller businesses.” Granite City First said that Wal-Mart’s revenue would simply be transferred from local businesses, lowering Wal-Mart’s assertion that it would boost sales tax in the city. The group stated that the supercenter was incompatible with the city’s plan to revitalize its downtown. This week, the Press-Record reports that the Granite City Planning Commission has voted in favor of rezoning agricultural land to commercial to allow the Wal-Mart expansion. The Commission voted unanimously to approve rezoning eight acres on Route 3. That recommendation now goes to the Granite City Council on August 19th. The newspaper says about 20 opponents showed up at the hearing. To show some support, Wal-Mart had to send over its own employees to support the plan — because taxpayers supporting the plan were few and far between. To add insult to injury, Granite City taxpayers will help subsidize the Wal-Mart expansion, because the project is located in a Tax Increment Financing District.
The city’s Economic Development Director told the Planning Commission, “Wal-Mart, like other large anchor stores, is important to the commercial development, primarily because of the traffic count that it generates. Other stores and restaurants prefer to go where people are and a Super Wal-Mart draws many people.” But the people Wal-Mart draws are all coming from existing businesses. City officials apparently have never visited nearby Collinsville, where a Wal-Mart supercenter was not helpful to existing merchants. Ken Aud, of Granite City First, which is made up of church officials, union representatives and Granite City residents, described the existing Wal-Mart as “big mistake.” “They have bad practices that are effecting the country,” Aud said. “(A Super Center) will have a negative impact on local grocery stores like Schnucks and Shop ‘n Save.” The project was also opposed by the local United Food and Commercial Workers International. “The rule of thumb is that Schnucks, Shop ‘n Saves and smaller grocery stores suffer economically when a Wal-Mart Super Center opens in a community,” the UFCW spokesman said. In Belleville, Illinois, a Wal-Mart supercenter caused the Schnucks and Stop ‘n Save to lose as much as 25% of their sales. “In Highland, Illinios, a grocery store was forced to shut down, and Schnucks saw a significant loss in profits,” the UFCW told the Commission. “Retail dollars usually cycle three to seven times within a community. However, dollars spent at a Wal-Mart pay the wages of the employees. The rest is wired out to Bentonville, Ark., usually within the same day.” Wal-Mart wants to expand onto a farmland site along Route 3. The land the company wants would have to be rezoned from agriculture to commercial. The city’s Economic Development Director told the newspaper that denying the rezoning could lead to legal issues. The city has three commercial redevelopment projects in its comprehensive plan. When the Press-Record ran the story about the opposition group, one local resident wrote in to the newspaper. “I work for the Collinsville Wal-Mart,” she said. “We had such a nice, quiet little store before the supercenter took over. Many, many life-time associates — I am talking 20 plus years — have been cut to part time. There are single mothers working two and three jobs to support their kids. Not just the wage issue, Wal-Mart drains your happiness and spirit, and after you have been there so many years, it is so hard to find another job. I have been trying for over 5 years. Wal-Mart employees have a bad rep, for good reason. We are tired and our spirit is broken, don’t do this to your town. Glen Carbon [Illinois] said no, you can too! ” Readers are urged to email Mayor Hagnauer at http://granitecity.illinois.gov//wfapp?ACTION=Node&NodeID=257 with this message: “Mr. Mayor, you are right to say that your city is a ‘hidden treasure chest’ of opportunities. But a Wal-Mart expansion offers no added value to that treasure chest. Adding a grocery component to the existing Wal-Mart will only take away grocery jobs elsewhere in the city, and cause one or two grocery stores to close. Then you have blighted buildings on your hands. You say the Granite City ‘has it all.’ You already have a Wal-Mart, and don’t need a bigger one. If Granite City is promoting quality of life, then you want to be careful you emphasize quality — not just the quantity of cheap, Chinese imports. The fact is, rezoning farmland and open space is just a bad land use idea. If Wal-Mart wants to reformat its existing store into a supercenter, that’s fine. But expansion onto farmland is so short-sighted. Once you take away your farmland, it’s not going to come back. Your city’s Vision goals talks about planned growth, revitalizing historic areas, seeking high paying jobs and high tech businesses. Wal-Mart does none of these things. I urge you to vote against rezoning the property when it comes to the Council on August 19th, and instead require Wal-Mart to retrofit their existing store into a supercenter. They are building 99,000 s.f. supercenters today — so there is no reason they can’t make a superstore from the discount store they already have in the Granite City. Wal-Mart’s need to expand are not etched in stone, and the Council is not required to rezone farmland for anyone. If you vote to rezone, I hope Granite City First will challenge the rezoning in court.”