On July 19th, the story broke that Wal-Mart had purchased a 17-acre site at College Boulevard in Carlsbad, California, with plans to build “its most upscale store in the nation,” according to the North County Times. The land transfer took place two months earlier, but finally leaked out. Carlsbad is known as the “village by the sea.” The community has roughly 92,000 residents, plus thousands of tourists year round. Money magazine named Carlsbad one of the most desirable places to live in America. It’s only 35 minutes to downtown San Diego, with Los Angeles and Tijuana, Mexico only one hour away. Carlsbad boasts of its natural landscapes and 7 miles of beautiful coastline. The city has green parks, graceful lagoons, and pristine sandy white beaches — but no Wal-Marts. But there are plenty of existing Wal-Marts surrounding Carlsbad. A total of 6 Wal-Marts lie within 22 miles of Carlsbad, with three Wal-Mart discount stores in Oceanside, California alone, within 7 miles of Carlsbad. Carlsbad has attracted corporate headquarters for corporations like Jazzercise, Jenny Craig, the Gemological Institute of America, K2 Inc., Isis Pharmaceuticals, Invitrogen, and Sunrise Medical. Carlsbad is also home to more than 20 golf companies. “Apart from its picturesque scenery, coastal distinction, and high standard of living,” the city’s website says, “Carlsbad has truly become an economic jewel of San Diego County. Carlsbad has enjoyed a strong local economy for many years, much of which has come from industrial development.” Into this unique environment, Wal-Mart is offering a store its PR people call “an absolute paradigm shift.” The retailer says it knows that people in Carlsbad do not want a typical big box store. “We believe the community of Carlsbad would say, ‘That’s not for us.” A spokesman at Wal-Mart headquarters said the store would be “another example of our store of the community concept, not necessarily a new program… we’re still working with the city to make sure the store works for the community. We take that approach with every store.” But in the Carlsbad community, the city’s zoning regulations would not allow a free-standing big box. Under Carlsbad zoning, a shopping center must serve the local community and must contain at least three retail establishments on the lot. City planners said the 17 acre parcel might allow for a “small” Wal-Mart, but not a large supercenter. The land is zoned correctly, but will need city approval because of size and design issues. Wal-Mart is hyping the store, saying it will carry more expensive and upscale products than the typical Wal-Mart. A spokesman said the store would sell items and trinkets “unique to Carlsbad.” The President of the Terraces at Sunny Creek Community Association, a 170-unit community in Carlsbad, located on the southwest corner of the site, told the media that the lot Wal-Mart purchased was supposed to be used for a “desirable mall with restaurants, boutiques and an anchor.” It was owned by local developers who promised homeowners “a desirable, family-oriented shopping mall… They displayed nice drawings showing walkways, picturesque architecture.” The Sunny Creek neighbors say they were dismayed when they found out the land had been sold to Wal-Mart.
One retail analyst told the Arkansas Morning news that the Wal-Mart project in Carlsbad will lead to a confrontation. “Costco is the only big-box store here now, and if it submitted plans today, it wouldn’t pass. It’s a very upscale community; houses start at half-a-million and go up. This whole coastal area is very upscale.” The project now has to go before the city’s planning commission, which will make a recommendation to the city council. It can’t be confirmed that Wal-Mart views this supercenter as one of its few “upscale,” stores. In August of 2006, Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott told shareholders, “Our new Plano, Texas Supercenter is teaching us a lot about appealing more to women and affluent customers… At our Plano store, our gross profit per linear foot is 24 percent higher than the average store.” So whether Carlsbad is another pilot store, or not, local residents say they don’t want it. One day after the announcement that Wal-Mart had bought land in town, a Carlsbad resident sent the following comment to the North County Times: “Please Carlsbad council, don’t reward the worlds ‘biggest bully’ by allowing even a so-called ‘high-end’ Wal-Mart into town! That’s like saying, we have rats in our garage, but that’s OK, because they told us that they’re high-end rats… ” The 5- member City Council will have the ultimate vote on this issue. To contact Carlsbad Mayor Bud Lewis, call 760-434-2830. Or email the City Council by going to their website and sending them a comment: http://ci.carlsbad.ca.us/map/dir1.html. Tell them: “Enforce your Growth Management Plan. A Wal-Mart superstore on Sunny Creek is far too large for the site. The “Village by the Sea” does not need a Wal-Mart by the sea. We have more Wal-Marts than we need in Oceanside.”