This is a story about ‘progress’ American-style. Next Wednesday, October 14th, at 8 AM the Mayor of Lebanon, Indiana is going to look foolish. Mayor Harold “Huck” Lewis and members of the City Council will show up for the grand opening of the new 208,879 s.f. Wal-Mart supercenter, which is located immediately behind an existing Wal-Mart discount store on Lebanon Street. Before Wal-Mart passes out large foam board checks to the Lebanon Boys and Girls Club, the Lebanon Senior Services, and the YMCA, the Mayor will repeat earnestly the statistic that he was given by Wal-Mart to read: this supercenter will create “200 planned new jobs… and an increase in tax revenue to support the area’s economy.” It’s the same storyline the Mayor read in the Indianapolis Star newspaper article about the ribbon-cutting. The new Wal-Mart boasts of having energy efficient technology, a “bright interior color palette” and “lower shelving” to create “an improved sightline.” The cement used in the concrete flooring is made with recycled materials, and the floor’s finish reduces the need for chemical cleaners. Low-flow toilets and faucets reduce the water used in the bathrooms. Despite these ‘environmentally correct’ attributes — the fact is Wal-Mart is leaving an existing store empty — a huge environmental eyesore. According to Wal-Mart, 450 people will work at the supercenter, but 250 of those jobs are merely being transferred a few hundred feet from the old store, which was built in 1989. After 20 years, Wal-Mart is leaving its “old” store empty, and it could sit empty for years. This unsustainable habit of building stores and then leaving them vacant, is one of Wal-Mart’s worst environmental sins. Mayor Huck Lewis may mention that Wal-Mart employs 40,007 people in Indiana, but he won’t have the statistics for how many local and regional businesses have gone under while Wal-Mart was building its 124 store empire in Indiana. Mayor Lewis doesn’t have time to worry about the difference between gross jobs and net jobs. He’ll leave that to the economists.
Lebanon is known as “the friendly city,” and they certainly have been friendly to every big box developer that knocked on their door. This community has only 15,400 residents, and there is a Wal-Mart supercenter in Brownsburg, Indiana 14 miles away, plus two more superstores 16 miles away in Frankfort and Indianapolis. If the friendly people of Lebanon have a craving for cheap, Chinese imports, there are no less than 15 Wal-Mart supercenters within 25 miles of their city. But having a supercenter for Lebanon fits nicely into Mayor Huck Lewis’ economic development strategy. “Promoting the community,” the Mayor says on his webpage, “economic development, planning for the future and providing Fiscal responsibility is utmost important as we improve the quality of life of our Citizens.” The Mayor did not confer with Krogers, or Kell’s IGA, or City Drug Store, or D.L. Creath’s Grocery store — or the many other merchants in his city that may not survive the saturation of another Wal-Mart superstore. The Mayor accepted the standard notion that another big box store going up is progress. Readers are urged to email Mayor Huck Lewis at: [email protected] with the following message: “Dear Mayor Lewis, Please don’t go on about all the ‘new jobs’ that Wal-Mart is bringing to Lebanon. Many of your existing retailers must feel that you sold them out by promoting the absurd plan to shut down the existing Wal-Mart to build a bigger one right behind it. Imagine what would happen if every merchant abandoned their store every twenty years. The fact is, most sales at the new Wal-Mart will come from other cash registers in town — including most notably the ‘old’ Wal-Mart, which opened the same year that George H.W. Bush was inaugurated as President. If that doesn’t seem so long ago — it’s not. The new jobs at Wal-Mart are mostly old jobs now located at other retailers. This grand opening you are going to is all about shifting market share, not economic development. Now Lebanon has an empty store on its hands, and within the next couple of years, more local business will be emptied out by the supercenter. So please, Mayor Lewis, when you go to the Wal-Mart opening — try not to talk about jobs. After all, you’re a Mayor, not an economist.”