Here is an opinion editorial that ran in the February 21st edition of the Atlanta Journal Constitution:” Vacant Wal-Marts leave a blot on communities.By Al Norman. Business columnists across the country have enshrined Wal-Mart as the new King of Large — the world’s biggest company — with annual sales that now top Exxon Mobil. But there is a darker side to Wal-Mart’s ascendancy.The Arkansas-based corporation has also littered our highways with more “dead” stores than any other retailer in history. Today, Wal-Mart has a staggering 396 “once-occupied” stores for sale or lease — more than 32.5 million square feet of empty boxes.The phenomenon has been called “the empty box syndrome.” Georgia has the distinction of being home to the second-largest number of vacant Wal-Mart stores in America. Thirty-four used-to-be Wal-Marts are deteriorating daily on Georgia soil. It’s not easy to recycle these stores — except to use them as wind tunnels — because Wal-Mart is not about to lease them to competitors. Lease is the operative word, since nine out of 10 Wal-Mart stores on the market are not owned by Wal-Mart, but are lease takeovers.There are very few people in Georgia who would argue that what the state needs is 2.5 million square feet of unproductive retail space. Add to that figure all the malls and small merchants who lost their shirts when Wal-Mart opened up on the parkway or the highway. The fact is, these giant retailers bring very little added value to Georgia communities. The big boxes arrived, displaced the local retailers and then moved to another location farther out of town. Wal-Mart blames us — the consumer — for demanding “wider aisles.” They built superstores for us, even though our local communities suffered as a result. It was a decision built on greed, not need “The fact that we relocate stores,” a Wal-Mart real estate executive once testified in court, “and we relocate a lot of them, is a well-known fact in the development community.” But for years, the public didn’t have a clue. They saw buildings going up, and mistook this activity for “progress.” Fortunately, communities are starting to react to this enormous waste of land and community resources. They are placing limits on the size of stores, requiring escrow accounts to raze properties that sit vacant for more than a year, prohibiting large retail boxes in certain commercial zones and tightening up the zoning review process. This cycle of develop-and-depart must end. Al Norman of Greenfield, Mass., is the author of the 1999 book “Slam Dunking Wal-Mart: How You Can Stop Superstore Sprawl in Your Hometown.” His Website is www.sprawl-busters.com.
For information about dead Wal-Mart stores in your state, contact [email protected]