Wal-Mart is once again pitting one town’s gain against another town’s loss, as the retailer shifts its stores ever so slightly, from discount operation to supercenter. For more than a decade now, Wal-Mart has been shutting down its existing inventory of discount stores, and either expanding them on site, or moving them one block over, one town over, or one mile down the road, to create a larger, more profitable supercenter. This constant shuffling of stores has created hundreds of “dark stores,” or what the media often refers to as “ghost boxes.” The lastest game of hopscotch is taking place between Johnsburg and McHenry, Illinois. According to the Northwest Herald, the Wal-Mart move would be only one mile, but the financial implications for McHenry could be more dramatic. Wal-Mart announced yesterday that it planned on building a supercenter on Route 31 and Running Brook Faarm Boulevard. The proposed site is just over one mile north of the existing Wal-Mart discount store in McHenry. Wal-Mart said they would shut down the McHenry store to “consolidate operations” at the new 175,000 s.f. superstore in Johnsburg, which they hope will be open for business by the summer of 2010. “This is a relocation of the store in McHenry,” a Wal-Mart spokesman told the Northwest Herald. “The associates at the [McHenry] store will work at the new store.” By Wal-Mart’s calculations, the new store will add to the 200 existing jobs in McHenry by adding 180 new jobs at the Johnsburg superstore, for a total of 380 jobs. But this does not count the loss of jobs in neighboring grocery stores, which will bring the net total of job creation to little or nothing. The McHenry store is 116,000 s.f., so the expansion is roughly 60,000 s.f. to add the grocery component. “We need a larger footprint for the Wal-Mart concept store of today,” the Wal-Mart spokesman said. Johnsburg village trustees, who are in essence stealing their neighbor’s revenues, told the newspaper that they have been in discussions with Wal-Mart regarding the move for the past year and a half. Trustee John Huemann said the retailer has submitted “preliminary plans” to the village for review. “It speaks to the entire corridor,” Huemann said, “obviously Wal-Mart is a very important part to the success of the corridor, but that corridor has been planned for more than 15 years. It’s a real testimony to the forethought of all the people who have been heavily involved in the process.” Wal-Mart told the Herald that it will be submitting “official plans” to the Johnsburg Planning Commission within the next 4 to 6 weeks. But it appears that the good folks in Johnsburg had managed to keep their year and a half romance with Wal-Mart a secret from the retailer’s host town in McHenry. McHenry’s Mayor Susan Low must have been embarrassed to learn about the Johnsburg switch while she was shopping at the McHenry Wal-Mart. Reached by cell phone by the newspaper, she admitted, “I haven’t talked to anyone,” she said. “It’s news to me.” Johnsburg Trustees tried to put the best face on their sudden announcement to their neighbors. “We have worked in unison with the city of McHenry, and have been pretty good partners with each other,” he told the Herald. “The corridor is a benefit to both communities.” But this week’s announcement is likely the beginning of the end of the unison in McHenry County, as McHenry starts to calculate the lost revenues from its stolen store. The Johnsburg/McHenry retail merry-go-round, is another classic example of what happens in the absence of regional land use planning.
Not only is there no need for another superstore in the area, but Wal-Mart could reconfigure its existing 116,000 s.f. store in McHenry to be a superstore. Wal-Mart has built supserstores as small as 99,000 s.f., so the move to Johnsburg is one of convenience for the company, but very disrupting to McHenry, and totally wasteful of land. Wal-Mart operates five stores in McHenry County, along with one Sam’s Club outlet, and a sixth location will open in Huntley, Illinois by the end of April. On the village’s website, Johnsburg announced that the “permitting process is well under way.” “We are thrilled that this very complicated and involved process continues to move forward,” said Village President David Dominguez. “The end result will be a wonderful new Wal-Mart that will not only enhance our community, but provide approximately 180 new jobs and expand our non-residential tax base.” “Our Wal-Mart team of real estate brokers, engineers, lawyers, environmental consultants and architects have been diligently working to make the opening a Johnsburg Supercenter a reality in 2010,” said Wal-Mart’s spokesman. Wal-Mart said their new store “will reflect the appealing new Wal-Mart construction prototype.” Readers are urged to email Village Trusteee David Dominguez at http://www.johnsburg.org/?q=contact_the_village with the following message: “Dear President Dominguez, I imagine you ruined Mayor Low’s shopping trip to Wal-Mart this week, as she realized that not only had Wal-Mart’s entire team of real estate brokers, engineers and lawyers kept a secret from her — but so did the Trustees of the neighboring village. You must realize that this Wal-Mart project is just stealing your neighbor’s pig. That’s all it amounts to. But it’s also a totally unnecessary waste of land, since Wal-Mart’s store in McHenry is large enough to reformat into a superstore, without building a new one. McHenry will struggle to fill the old store, and it could sit on the market for years, especially in this environment. But perhaps the worst thing Johnsburg has done is keep its own citizens in the dark for a year and a half, while you met behind closed doors with Wal-Mart. Your village only has around 6,647 people (2007 census), and it would have been easy to let them know what you were negotiating. But you put Wal-Mart’s needs before those of your residents, or your neighboring community. This project brings no added value to the local trade area, since most of its sales will come from the existing store in McHenry, and most new grocery sales will come from existing grocers in the immediate area — one or two of which can be expected to close. You have been operating in the dark for a long time now. It’s time to let the residents of McHenry and Johnsburg talk openly about this project, and overcome the strong feeling you have created that this retailer has been given a done deal. Regional land use planning is a great thing. Johnsburg might want to try it sometime. For now, you will have to find a way to rationalize the stealing of revenue from McHenry, until the day they find another anchor store to try to steal the sales taxes back.”