The shoe industry is long gone from Johnson City, New York. Now, instead of manufacturing jobs, residents can buy shoes made in China at their local Wal-Mart, on the site where the old shoe factory once stood. Johnson City is buzzing this week in reaction to a developer’s announcement of a proposed Wal-Mart superstore. Newman Development Group, which is based in nearby Vestal, New York, wants to build a 130.720 s.f. Wal-Mart supercenter on the site of the former Endicott Johnson Ranger Paracord site in the village. Newman Development has been trying to redevelop this property as a retail center for 14 years, the company claims. The Gannett newspaper chain opened a 96,000-s.f. printing plant near this site last year — another project of Newman Development. The businesses most likely to feel the impact would be the village’s Wegmans and Price Chopper grocery stores. A spokesman for Wegman’s told the Press & Sun Bulletin, “Initially there’s a significant impact. Over time, people do return and shop with us, but there will always be some impact.” The newspaper interviewed several local businesses in the area, who suggested that Wal-Mart would not hurt their operations. These are usually the same businesses that are gone within 5 years after a Wal-Mart opens. The Johnson market area already has a larger Wal-Mart supercenter in Vestal, which is only a five minute drive from Johnson. Newman Development’s plan must go through the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA). The store would be open all night.
Newman Development told the Press & Sun newspaper that the store would employ about 300 people — but this is a gross figure only, not the net of what will result after other businesses in the area shut down or curtail their operations. Newman also promised local officials that the store would not look like a typical Wal-Mart supercenter, but would have a “brick look” and feature more earth tones. Initial plans have been submitted to the village, but no lead agency for the SEQRA has been announced. The Ranger Paracord site was a shoe factory for 80 years and was part of the Endicott-Johnson legacy of dozens of factories that spawned the company towns of Binghamton, Johnson City, and Endicott in what was once known as “the Valley of Opportunity.” There is a historic pagoda on the site, which Newman will relocate from the site. A Newman Development entity purchased the Ranger Paracord site in late 2003 from a subsidiary of Millenium Chemicals Corporation — after two abortive earlier attempts dating back to 1994. Although Newman says it is “primarily in the business of developing shopping centers,” their deal with the local newspaper publisher created a regional newspaper printing facility. But now, instead of more manufacturing employment, Newman is returning to low-wage, big box jobs. Johnson City Mayor Harry G. Lewis told the Gannett newspaper that he’s pleased Wal-Mart chose the village for its newest Supercenter. “We look forward to having Wal-Mart and its employees become a part of our community,” the Mayor said. So much for a neutral, unbiased review of the proposal. Newman said it had been in discussions with other retailers for the site, but Wal-Mart was the most aggressive about locating there. The chain conducted demographic studies to determine the viability of a second store in Broome County, Newman said. Ironically, Johnson City has a Downtown Partnership — a group focused on revitalizing downtown Johnson City. This Wal-Mart supercenter will give the Downtown Partnership plenty to work on for years to come. Please take a moment and call Johnson City Mayor Harry G. Lewis, and let the Mayor know that he ought to work to independently evaluate this Wal-Mart proposal, to see what impact it has on the village’s goal of downtown revitalization, instead of endorsing the project even before it has its first hearing. You can reach Mayor Lewis at his residence: 607-729-3708. Tell him the “Valley of Opportunity” is turning into a Chinese import economy with Wal-Mart’s arrival.