Residents in Millville, New Jersey don’t have far to travel to find a plentiful source of cheap Chinese imports.
There are six Wal-Mart stores within 25 miles of Millville — including two supercenters. Wal-Mart discount store #2109 is right in Millville on North 2nd Street, and there is also supercenter #3339 less than six miles to the north in Vineland, New Jersey.
So it was a less than enthusiastic greeting that the Wal-Mart corporation received this week in Millville, when it was announced that the giant retailer wants to expand its existing store in Millville into a supercenter. Wal-Mart wants to add on another 40,000 s.f. to its existing discount store.
Right there to greet them was the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 152, which opposes the expansion plan. Gerald Chudoff, a spokesman for the UFCW, told the Daily Journal newspaper that his union will fight the addition of another grocery store to the area.
According to the newspaper, the Wal-Mart proposal has been discussed with the city’s planning staff, but no submission has been made yet. Wal-Mart has indicated that the plan will be on the Millville Planning Board agenda on November 8th.
UFCW Local 152 has opposed Wal-Mart grocery projects in many other New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and Delaware locations, so the opposition was not likely a surprise to Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart’s existing Millville store has no union workers, and the Vineland superstore a few miles away has no organized labor. The proposed expansion will actually cross the Millville border into Vineland, and the Vineland Zoning Board in September granted Wal-Mart a variance, to allow the retailer to change its storm basin and expand a parking area. But Vineland has not reviewed the site plan yet.
According to UFCW’s Chudoff, the union plans to conduct a full intervention against the store, including legal and engineering peer reviews. The union charged that another grocery store in the trade area will hurt existing businesses, and threaten better-paying union jobs. Chudoff that the UFCW jobs come with better employee benefits than a Wal-Mart job.
“They offset higher-paying jobs with minimum-wage jobs. We are trying to protect our employees,” Chudoff told the newspaper. “Millville wooed ShopRite to come into the town and is now giving them an unfair playing field.”
Chudoff told the Daily Journal that Wal-Mart could expand its store into the vacant building next door. A Pathmark grocery store in the same shopping plaza, Cumberland Crossing, is shutting down this coming week — another retail victim of the over-saturation of grocery stores.
Wal-Mart’s spokesman insisted that the new store “will hire more people and pay more taxes. It will be good for the community.” But jobs lost at the area ShopRite, Acme and Pathmark grocery stores must be subtracted from Wal-Mart’s gross figures to calculate the net impact on the local area. The addition of another grocery store is likely to create no net growth for the city of Millville, but will increase the number of store closings.
Millville is a city with a confused sense of development.
On the one hand, the city says that it is “committed to revitalizing its downtown,” yet supports big box development which detracts from downtown projects.
Millville has a Main Street Program which it says “builds on the City’s accomplishments and jump starts a new beginning for the community.” Yet Main Street programs generally do not support national big box chain stores which undermine traditional downtowns.
Millville was named more than two hundred years ago in anticipation that many mills and factories would be located in the city. Millville is only 45 miles from Philadelphia, 120 miles from New York City. It’s abundance of white silica sand made it attractive to the glass industry. But today, the city is focusing on retail growth, which adds little value to the community, and is no substitution for the kind of manufacturing jobs that created the name ‘Millville.’
Readers are urged to email Millville’s Mayor Tim Shannon at [email protected] with the following message:
“Dear Mayor Shannon, As you watch existing grocery stores closing, does it occur to the City Commission why these retailers are closing down, and what the addition of a Wal-Mart grocery store will do to those merchants still in business?
Your city suggests that downtown revitalization is a top priority, yet you continue to pursue a policy of encouraging national chain stores, which extract capital from your economy, and introduce lower wage jobs to your trade area. How does it help Millville to expand its Wal-Mart? How many existing jobs will be lost?
These are questions the Planning Board needs to ask during the hearing process. In other communities, Wal-Mart has decided that they can reconfigure their existing store into a supercenter without adding a single square foot. This is called an “inbox conversion.”
Instead of a larger store, Wal-Mart should be asked to remodel what is already has, and not waste more land on a sprawling store.
Millville has the choice to lead growth, or follow it. Expanding the size of your national chains will produce nothing you can take to the bank. The Planning Board should tell Wal-Mart to go back to the design of their North 2nd Street store, and make do with the huge store they already have.”