After a year of angering residents in Morganton, North Carolina, Wal-Mart announced this week that it won’t be coming to town, and has let its land option die. This is great holiday news for the citizens of Morganton, who formed a group called Burke Citizens for Responsible Growth (BCRG). The land on Route 181 will not be used for a supercenter, as a Wal-Mart public relations spokesman told the Morganton News Herald their intent was “not to pursue that particular site.” As usual, the company left its options open, however, saying Morganton “is an area where we’re looking to better serve our customers.” BCRG had testified to city officials that the store would create unreasonable traffic congestion, jeopardize students at a nearby school, and harm the fragile environment around the Catawba River. A spokesman for BCRG told the New Herald, “I’m pleased with that decision and think it’s for the best for the community.” The group pledged to stay active to make sure Wal-Mart’s next site in Burke County will not be another inappropriate location. Morganton Mayor Mel Cohen said Wal-Mart’s decision not to drop its plans was a victory for those residents who were against it. “I have to be pleased they’re going to leave the N.C. 181 location because people didn’t want it there,” Cohen said. The Mayor told them media that he does not expect Wal-Mart to return to another site in the immediate area anytime soon, because the economy is slow. “That’s just my opinion,” Cohen told the newspaper.
Wal-Mart shoppers take heart. There are already 6 Wal-Marts within 27 miles of Morganton, including a supercenter 23 miles away in Hickory, North Carolina. Morganton already has one Wal-Mart — a discount store on Burkemont Avenue — which surely would have closed if the larger supercenter had opened in the same community. Morganton has less than 18,000 people, and is already adequately served by Wal-Marts. North Carolina currently has 9 empty Wal-Marts, or a total of 612,148 s.f. of dead space. The Morganton Wal-Mart discount store would simply have become dark store number ten. The empty square footage in North Carolina today would fill ten and a half football fields.