There are at least 10 empty Wal-Marts in North Carolina today. One of them is in the Clyde/Waynesville area. Clyde is nestled in Haywood County, home of the Great Smoky Mountains. Clyde boasts that it has the distinction of being “away from it all” but without the isolation usually associated with mountain living. Clyde was once an important holding area and loading point for shipping livestock to more populous areas of the country. The small, friendly town later evolved into a “bedroom” community for people who work outside the area. It may be in the mountains, but Clyde is not protected from suburban sprawl. Clyde is a tiny community, with just under 1,300 people in 2007. According to the Smoky Mountain News, there’s a ‘hulking space’ that once was a Wal-Mart discount store on Route 74 in the Clyde area, which has been vacant since the Wal-Mart supercenter, with 188,494 s.f., opened in Waynesville on October 1, 2008 — just eight miles down the road from the original location in Clyde. The Wal-Mart discount store in Clyde that was closed was built in 1990, and is 116,061 s.f. The newspaper reports that what was once a bustling retail market and taxpaying property is now slated to go off the tax rolls entirely and become the new home of the Haywood County Department of Health and Social Services. One Haywood County Commissioner said that the current county offices, located in an old hospital, are no longer viable. “I don’t think there’s any question that the building is not adequate. It’s in disrepair and it’s very expensive to maintain. You’re dealing with an almost 80-year-old building.” Relocating the county departments to the old Wal-Mart location would provide thousands more feet of space, and the newspaper adds, “the move may also provide the county with the best hope of finding a tenant for the empty big box structure.” This is because the county is already plagued by a growing inventory of empty stores. Goody’s clothing store is going out of business, leaving an empty storefront in a strip mall in Waynesville. Home Depot has canceled plans for a new store in Waynesville, leaving an empty site in the mall that the Super Wal-Mart just relocated to. “Right now, there’s not a whole lot of retailers that are looking to expand,” Haywood County’s Economic Development Director told the Smoky Mountain News. “Everybody’s pretty cautious right now. The county’s interest (in the Wal-Mart property) is very encouraging.” The newspaper referred to the county’s interest in locating inside the dead Wal-Mart as “repurposing” the building, and county officials said this “greyfields” phenomenon is happening all over the country. So far the county hasn’t signed the dotted line yet, and is reportedly looking at several other locations. Haywood County is also going through tight economic times, and this may not be the opportune time to buy a new facility. The County’s manager added there was a possibility that the latest federal stimulus package might contain funds to help finance the purchase of the dead Wal-Mart by the county. Wouldn’t that be a great use of federal tax funds?
Wal-Mart has left hundreds of ‘dark stores’ in its wake as it moves through small town America, causing local officials to worry about being stuck with huge, empty stores that cannot easily be recycled. One has to wonder what officials in Clyde would have said in 1990 if Wal-Mart had told them that in less than 20 years their proposed discount store would be closed and left for the county to buy. For the town of Clyde, this represents a major loss of revenue. The County will not pay property taxes on the building, and there will be no sales tax at all. The big winner is Wal-Mart, which will sell off its dead store, and make more money at its superstore 8 miles away. This leapfrog development is a perfect example of the sprawl that happens when there is no regional planning. In this case, Waynesville took away Clyde’s store, when the Clyde store could have been reformatted to become a superstore. Wal-Mart today is building superstores that are 99,000 s.f. The Clyde Wal-Mart is 116,061 s.f. No relocation was necessary in the first place, and Clyde’s store was clearly meant for Waynesville and surrounding towns, because Clyde’s tiny population could never support a discount store on its own. Readers are urged to call (828)627-2566 and leave the following message on the answering machine for Clyde Town Manager Jimmy Green: “Dear Mr. Green, Please don’t use federal tax dollars to buy an empty Wal-Mart that bad planning created. Clyde and Waynesville should never have allowed Wal-Mart to abandon its ‘old’ store in the first place, just to move to bigger quarters 8 miles away. They could have reformatted their existing store in Clyde into a superstore, and today you’d have no dead store to worry about. But the idea of using federal stimulus money to write a check to Wal-Mart — which doesn’t need any more federal subsidies — is irresponsible. Instead, call over to the new Wal-Mart superstore manager, Jerry Presley at (828) 452-5090 and ask him to write to the corporate central office in Bentonville, Arkansas, asking Wal-Mart to donate the land and building to the town. It’s the least they can do to repay the town of Clyde for leaving you with an empty building that could have been avoided in the first place. Don’t subsidize Wal-Mart with tax dollars — ask them for a charitable donation that they can take as a tax write-off.”