Back in the early 1990s, the sitting Mayor of Granite City, Illinois made local headlines when he took the names of 2,000 local residents who wanted a Wal-Mart store in Granite City down to the corporation’s headquarters in Arkansas. The Mayor ended up getting his store — but a little more than a decade later, the current Mayor of the city is getting letters too — but this time for residents who don’t want the existing Wal-Mart expanded into a superstore. The current Mayor of Granite City, Ed Hagnauer, calls his community “the best well-kept secret in all of Southern Illinois.” But Wal-Mart knows the secret, and in addition to their discount store on W. Pontoon Road in the Granite City, the retailer also has a supercenter 8 miles away in Colllinsville, Illinois, and a total of 14 stores within a 20 mile drive of the city. The proposal to expand the current Wal-Mart into a supercenter in Granite City has pushed some residents over the wall. In early May, the Granite City Press-Record carried a photo of anti-Wal-Mart activists, organized into a group called Granite City First, submitting a long scroll of names to the city clerk. The newspaper reported that the group delivered 3,056 letters of opposition to the supercenter to Mayor Hagnauer’s office. The Mayor was given four containers of letters, delivered by Gary Gains and Dennis Barker of the United Steelworkers, Mitchell resident Ron Trimmer and Granite City resident Helen Stumpe. Trimmer, who is the chairman of the United Organization of Metro East, an alliance of churches, described Wal-Mart as a “ruthless” company. “Wal-Marts are bad for any community,” Trimmer said in a City Hall speech. “When unions try to unionize them, they shut them down.” Stumpe, 84, was quoted by the newspaper as saying, “They are unfair to workers. They don’t pay enough, and they take away from smaller businesses.” Barker of the United Steelworkers, said he’s against the Super Center because it will lead to reduced wages and benefits at the Schnucks and Shop ‘n Save unionized grocery stores. “The impact would be immediate because Wal-Mart can sell lower because they pay lower wages, taking away good-paying jobs in Granite City,” he said. Granite City First said that Wal-Mart’s revenue would simply be transferred from local businesses, lowering Wal-Mart’s assertion that it would boost sales tax in the city. The group stated that the supercenter was incompatible with the city’s plan to revitalize its downtown. “They’re putting the cart before the horse,” the Mayor told the Press-Record. “During preliminary dialogue with Wal-Mart, we expressed our preference to have the expansion done through union work. Wal-Mart has not approached us with anything, and they have not asked for any incentives.” The Mayor said he had heard the expansion would not begin until 2010. He seemed to miss the point entirely that the Teamsters were talkin about grocery jobs, not just construction jobs.
Wal-Mart wants to expand onto a farmland site along Route 3. The land the company wants would have to be rezoned from agriculture to commercial. The city’s Economic Development Director told the newspaper that denying the rezoning could lead to legal issues. The city has three commercial redevelopment projects in its comprehensive plan. This week, the Press-Record newspaper said the number of signatures on the anti-Wal-Mart petitions was not has high as Granite City First had claimed. The City Clerk’s Office said that 2,400 letters were delivered — but they represented 637 different addresses. A spokesman for Granite City First, said the higher count of letters was based on duplicated letters addressed to aldermen, the mayor and the planning and zoning commission. Granite City First said it will continue to send letters to City Hall saying a Super Center is not welcome. The group is planning to attend the City Council meeting on May 20th, when the mayor and aldermen officially receive the letters for the first time. The group promised to fight the proposed rezoning when it comes before the city’s permitting boards. No developer is entitled to a rezoning. It’s a discretionary power controlled by the city. When the Press-Record ran the story about the opposition group, one local resident wrote in to the newspaper. “I work for the Collinsville Wal-Mart,” she said. “We had such a nice, quiet little store before the supercenter took over. Many, many life-time associates — I am talking 20 plus years — have been cut to part time. There are single mothers working two and three jobs to support their kids. Not just the wage issue, Wal-Mart drains your happiness and spirit, and after you have been there so many years, it is so hard to find another job. I have been trying for over 5 years. Wal-Mart employees have a bad rep, for good reason. We are tired and our spirit is broken, don’t do this to your town. Glen Carbon [Illinois] said no, you can too! ” Readers are urged to email Mayor Hagnauer at http://granitecity.illinois.gov//wfapp?ACTION=Node&NodeID=257 with this message: “Mr. Mayor, you are right to say that your city is a “hidden treasure chest of potential and opportunities.” But a Wal-Mart expansion offers no added value to that treasure chest. Adding a grocery component to the existing Wal-Mart will only take away grocery jobs elsewhere in the city, and cause one or two grocery stores to close. Then you have blighted buildings on your hands. You say the Granite City “has it all.” You certainly have a Wal-Mart, and don’t need a bigger one. If Granite City is promoting quality of life, then you want to be careful you emphasize quality — not just the quantity of cheap, Chinese imports. The fact is, rezoning farmland and open space is just a bad land use idea. If Wal-Mart wants to reformat its existing store into a supercenter, that’s fine. But expansion onto farmland is so short-sighted. Once you take away your farmland, it’s not going to come back. Your Vision goals talk about planned growth, revitalizing historic areas, seeking high paying jobs and high tech businesses. Wal-Mart does none of these things. I urge you to vote against rezoning the property, and requiring Wal-Mart to retrofit their existing store into a supercenter. They are building 99,000 s.f. supercenters today — so there is no reason they can’t make a superstore from the discount store they already have in the Granite City. Wal-Mart’s need to expand are not etched in stone, and the Council is not required to rezone farmland for anyone.”