Since 1997, Sprawl-Busters has been publicizing the existence of “abandoned” Wal-Mart stores, which the company refers to in George Lucas vocabulary as “dark stores.” When we last conducted an inventory scan of Wal-Mart’s “dark stores” in February of 2002, there were nearly 400 “available buildings” offered for lease or sale by Wal-Mart, totalling more than 32.5 million square feet of darkness. These are units Wal-Mart has left behind in the quest to open larger supercenter buildings, sometimes a mile or less from an existing store. Further confirmation of the negative, wasteful impact this leap-frog practise has on the retail market is found in the July, 2002 issue of the magazine Shopping Centers Today. According to a piece entitled “SOME LANDLORDS SHUN WAL-MART”, the Bentonville, AR based retailer is not a welcomed tenant for some developers because of its migratory habits. “Though landlords respect Wal-Mart’s strength and are in awe of its numbers, some say they would rather not have it as a tenant,” the SCT article says. The magazine quotes Robert McClain of Crow Holdings in Dallas as saying: “I’m scared of Wal-Mart and wouldn’t want to buy a Wal-Mart-anchored center either.” The reason? SCT says: “Wal-Mart has a habit of building stores and then closing them within five or 10 years to erect Supercenters nearby.” “They’ll still pay their rent,” McClain is quoted as saying, “but having a dark Wal-Mart really does not help you valuewise.”
Assume for a moment that the discount Wal-Mart store in your hometown is already on a list for extinction. That means when Wal-Mart proposes a supercenter, any additional economic impact claimed has to be offset by the closing of their existing store, which may pull down the value of other nearby properties. Wal-Mart has been sued by a number of developers and landlords for breach of contract when the retailer shuts down its store seven or eight years into a 25 year lease. The company often only has to pay a minimum base rent to stay in the building, and thereby sews up that location so no other competitor can lease it. Some of these “dark stores” remain dark for years, a symbol of economic decline. In some communities, like Sandy, Utah, Wal-Mart will put an existing discount store on the market months before local residents ever hear about it. For more information on Wal-Mart’s dark stores, search this database by the word “empty”.