Usually retailers are silent on the subject of Wal-Mart. In one small New Jersey town, a furniture store is speaking up, but its concerns may get ‘tabled.’ Pohatcong, New Jersey is a very small township in Warren County, with a population of roughly 3,400 people. The township has been losing population since 1970, and could never support a Wal-Mart supercenter without major help from shoppers in the larger trade area around it. But the surrounding communities already have Wal-Marts. There are six Wal-Marts within 16 miles of Pohatcong, including a discount store 4 miles away in Phillipsburg, and a supercenter 8 miles away in Easton, Pennslyvania. Wal-Mart’s application to build a superstore in tiny Pohatcong must have looked like a cake walk to the retailer, but its application now pending before the township’s land use board has hit a snag. In an unusual move, another regional chain store retailer has raised objections to the plan. According to the Express-Times newspaper, the Raymour & Flanigan Furniture company, which is planning a neighboring store of its own, has intervened in the Wal-Mart case. The furniture company became an objector after hearings on Wal-Mart’s proposal began. Raymour & Flanigan has raised issues during the meetings, and are paying for expert witnesses to testify at the land use board hearings. Raymour & Flanigan is planning to build a 60,000 s.f. store to serve the Pohatcong and Phillipsburg communities. The furniture retailer is going up against the National Realty Development Corporation of Purchase, N.Y., which has proposed a 200,000 s.f. Wal-Mart superstore on the site of the empty Laneco shopping center. National’s plans include a gas station and two restaurants. “I don’t think the questions the objector has amount to any significant issues,” a National spokesman told the newspaper. “I think they’re technical in nature.” The Raymour & Flanigan’s project, which has already been approved by the township, requires the company to negotiate with National about building a road to connect the two properties. The furniture company’s objections appear to be focused on the interconnecting road. No one in Pohatcong seems to be questioning the need for a huge superstore in a community that is already surrounded by retail sprawl from the same company.
Controversy follows this developer everywhere it goes. National Realty calls itself “one of the leading development and management firms in the Northeast.” It has a portfolio of more than 14 million square feet, including dozens of shopping centers in 14 states. National Realty tenants include Wal-Mart, Target, Kohl’s, Lowe’s Home Depot, and other big box stores. The developer has run into citizen opposition almost constantly, including site fights recorded by Sprawl-Busters in towns like Monsey, Patterson and Ramapo, New York, Stamford, Connecticut, and Agawam, Massachusetts. Its projects are often half a million square feet or more in size, and have names like “Lake Carmel Centre,” or “The Agawam Pavillion.” In 2006, National Realty was defeated by citizen’s in Agawam on a ballot vote that denied the corporation a rezoning. National Realty spent money to create an “astro-roots” citizen’s group in Agawam, but lost the vote when they put the rezoning on the ballot. In tiny Pohatcong, it appears as if National Realty can bulldoze over the locals, which is likely to mean the Wal-Mart store in Phillipsburg will close. At a recent Goldman Sachs investors conference in New York City, Wal-Mart CAO John Menzer told the media, “We are not going to cannibalize existing stores anymore. With the stores we do put in, we’ll have less impact on existing stores. We also are focused on converting discount stores to Supercenters. We have 1,060 discount stores left, and it’s in our five year plan that about half of those stores will become expansions or relocations for Supercenters.” The proposed Pohatcong superstore is the end of the Phillipsburg store, and local residents there probably don’t see the connection. To reach members of the Pohatcong Land Use Board, call (908) 454-6121. Tell them: “Pohatcong doesn’t need a Wal-Mart supercenter. You already have Phillipsburg’s store less than 5 miles away, and a superstore in Easton. Small towns don’t need huge superstores. Stop the sprawl in Pohatcong, vote no on Wal-Mart.”