You know your public relations are slipping when small town voters say they don’t want your retail store to come to town. Nuclear waste dumps, incinerators — nobody wants that kind of development. But a retail store? Wal-Mart officials know they rank high on the list of undesirable developments. A newspaper poll released today in the township of North Strabane, Pennsylvania says that people in this little town have had enough of Wal-Mart. North Strabane Township is located in northern Washington County, Pennsylvania, roughly 20 miles southwest of Pittsburgh. The Township has 10,057 residents and is 27 square miles. The predominance of development in the Township is residential in nature, with almost half its land classified as agricultural. Because the township lies along several major transportation corridors (I-79, I-70, Route 19) the area has witnesses typical highway sprawl. North Strabane has eight Wal-Marts within 20 miles, including five supercenters. The corporate giant already has a supercenter just off the Route 19 exit from Interstate 70 in South Strabane, and is pushing to build a store in nearby West Brownsville along route 40 as well. On June 27th, supervisors in North Strabane approved a preliminary site plan for another Wal-Mart supercenter off the Route 519 exit of Interstate 79. The Observer-Reporter newspaper ran a poll recently, asking its readers, “Should Wal-Mart open a store in North Strabane Township?” The results, which were published in today’s edition of the paper, were : 53% No, 47% Yes. Local officials in North Strabane may be encouraging Wal-Mart, but today’s newspaper poll might make the retailer think twice.
North Strabane is a small town, and the number of people participating in this poll was 287 readers — which is only 3% of the town’s population. But such polls have to be deeply troubling to Wal-Mart’s public relations army in Bentonville. Back in the early 1990s, when Wal-Mart opposition began to flare up like brush fires across the country, one of the retailer’s top officials was quoted as saying, “What’s all the fuss about? We’re not a nuclear waste dump!” But for many Americans, the over-building of huge superstores has become the retail equivalent of a nuclear waste dump. Only this time, the waste is imported from China. If people in the little community of North Strabane are saying they’ve had enough, its emblematic of the message Wal-Mart is getting all across America, from small towns to urban centers. People in North Strabane know how to find Wal-Mart. They are everywhere. The construction of more “fill-in” stores only cannibalizes sales at Wal-Mart, and alienates the locals. Wal-Mart would save itself a lot of time and money by paying attention to the newspaper poll in North Strabane, Pennsylvania. The store in North Strabane has been proposed not because of some market need there, but because Wal-Mart wants more market share there. It’s all about more market penetration. Such stores are not being build for folks on Main Street, but for investors on Wall Street. In an attempt to prove it not a 45 year old, middle-aged company, Wal-Mart wants its sales numbers to put a spring in its step on Wall Street. But back home in North Strabane, it looks like one more unnecessary store pushed by one more greedy corporate giant.