Love ’em and leave ’em. That seems to be Wal-Mart Canada’s attitude towards the Woolco stores they purchased within the past six years to gain entry into Canada. Now the giant retailer is upsetting Canadians by walking out on their Woolco stores in existing malls, only to build larger stores on the edge of town. In the case of Winnipeg, Wal-Mart has 6 Woolco locations, and has announced that it is departing from two malls. The company is shutting down its store in Garden City Square, and in the Grant Park Shopping Center. The Garden City store is 130,000 s.f., according to the Winnipeg Free Press, which quotes the mall owners as less than pleased with Wal-Mart’s short romance. “Wal-Mart does nothing for our community,” said one of the mall owners being jilted. “We need to send a message to Wal-Mart that instead of exporting its profits, the quid pro quo for doing business here is to be a good corporate citizen at a level commensurate with its ability to give.” The mall owners complained that Wal-Mart was not pulling its weight in the community. “They’re not doing a whole lot for the city,” the owners of Creswin Properties said. Wal-Mart’s response? “Absurd and completely untrue,” a spokesman said. “I feel sorry for them. They’re using our good name as a political platform (and) that’s outrageous.” But the only outrageous part of this tale is the fact that Wal-Mart’s occupancy in these stores lasted only 6 years, and the city is now being asked not only to rezone land that is zoned “rural” to “commercial”, but to amend its land use plan, known as Plan Winnipeg, just for the convenience of one company. Canada is the only international location where Wal-Mart has 144 stores but no supercenters. So the next kiss and tell story will be how Wal-Mart came into Canada and ravished all the existing grocery stores, now dominated by Loblaws and Sobeys. The mall owners in Winnipeg have pointed out that Wal-Mart’s premature withdrawal will kill the malls it is in, causing the city to lose revenues, while at the same time moving to undeveloped land without infrastructure supports. This will put an added burden on the city for water, sewer, schools and road maintenance, encouraging urban sprawl. Wal-Mart replied that blaming the company for urban sprawl was “a fear tactic that won’t work any more.” The amendments to Plan Winnipeg will be taken up on June 21st.
Wal-Mart’s own real estate executives have admitted under oath in court that Wal-Mart frequently relocates its stores, and our review of their “available buildings” last year showed that the company had vacated 330 stores containing 20 million square feet. Most of these “available” buildings were ones leased by Wal-Mart as a tenant. “The fact that we relocate stores — and we relocate a lot of them — is a well-known fact in the development community” is what Wal-Mart admitted in court. When asked how many times Wal-Mart had relocated its stores, the answer was: “the number would be in the hundreds”. For this reason, I counsel communities not to expect a long term relationship with Wal-Mart, because they arrive with their bags already packed, as the owners of Creswin properties found out the hard way. When Wal-Mart was charged with being a bad corporate citizen in Winnipeg, they responded by noting that they had given 7,000 bottles of water to a town in Ontario after a tainted water problem was discovered. That 7,000 bottles of water should be more than enough to drown the tears of unhappy residents in Winnipeg who see the wasteful and arbitrary demands Wal-Mart is putting on their city. Wal-Mart moves so often, I call them “the portable retailer.”