For the 47th time since June, 2007, Wal-Mart stores has withdrawn a superstore proposal, leaving local officials shocked and stunned. According to the Danville, Virginia Register & Bee newspaper, the Wal-Mart pull-out was a complete surprise to county officials. The county is divided into 7 districts. The Chairman of the county’s Board of Supervisors, Coy Harville, was the one who first announced about a year ago that a 187,000 s.f. Wal-Mart supercenter was coming to the Blairs area of the county. “Pittsylvania County could not be happier to welcome Wal-Mart to our community,” Harville was quoted as saying. “This supercenter will create new jobs and provide significant new tax revenue for our county. One of my top priorities has been to expand the tax base, provide new opportunities and new services to the citizens of Pittsylvania. I am confident this new Wal-Mart will be a benefit to the entire community.” Now the happiness and confidence is gone, and the superstore has evaporated. Harville’s promise of jobs and taxes is gone. When Harville read a prepared statement from Wal-Mart at the Supervisors meeting this week, the other county officials were dumbfounded. “This is really bad news,” Vice-Chairman Tim Barber, supervisor from the Tunstall District said. All a Wal-Mart spokeswoman would say to the Register & Bee was that “Wal-Mart is re-evaluating its growth strategy.” The spokeswoman said Wal-Mart re-examined its budget for the project, and decided its costs were too high. The representative said that Wal-Mart was cutting back on its superstore projects nation-wide, but said she did not know how many projects Wal-Mart was terminating. According to Sprawl-Buster’s, Pittsylvania County is the 47th site to lose its superstore project. Wal-Mart claimed the project would have created 300 jobs — but that’s a gross number — not a net. After compensating for jobs lost in other businesses, the job gain was likely to be negligible. For want of a better reason, the retailer’s spokeswoman said rising fuel prices were a factor in Wal-Mart’s decision. But that’s a factor everywhere in the country. High energy costs have helped Wal-Mart, which seems to do better in a recession. As usual, Wal-Mart tried to leave locals with some sense of possibility. “We hope to leave the door open to better serve the Pittsylvania County community in the future,” the spokeswoman said in a prepared statement. The county’s administrator was evidently caught off-guard by the sudden shift in fortunes. “It’s shocking,” Administrator Dan Sleeper told the Register & Bee. “We were hoping for some economic development for the Blairs area.” The Wal-Mart collapse leaves a empty space on Route 29, where the city was performing a traffic management study to make sure residents could access the site. But the stark reality now is that there will be no traffic generated by a Wal-Mart supercenter in Pittsylvania County.
In 2007, when announcing the superstore, Wal-Mart told county residents that the store could be permitted and open for business by early 2009. The company even named a Market Manager for the store, and quoted him in its press release. The fanfare surrounding the announcement of Wal-Mart’s first store in Pittsylvania County has now turned to black crepe. This county covers almost 1,000 square miles, and is the largest county in Virginia. The county borders North Carolina, and is less than 100 miles from Raleigh. The area has a Wal-Mart supercenter 16 miles away in Danville, and another supercenter 22 miles away in Alta Vista, Virginia. In fact, there are 6 Wal-Mart supercenters within 30 miles of Chatham, Virginia, the county seat. The county had 60,826 residents in 2007 — a 9% increase over its population in 1990. The county’s average annual growth has been about 304 new people a year — not flat — — but not more than a modest rate of growth. Readers are urged to email Board of Supervisors Chairman Coy Harville at [email protected] with the following message: “Dear Chairman Harville, It turns out that Pittsylvania County is the 47th site to have a Wal-Mart supercenter meltdown. The retailer has been abandoning its superstore all over the nation — because they have over-built, and are now retrenching. This gives Pittsylvania County an unexpected opportunity to do some real land use planning, instead of just jumping every time a national chain store comes over the plateau. The county should look seriously at putting a cap on the size of retail buildings, so that when a company like Wal-Mart makes a mistake — it’s not a super-sized mistake. You don’t need suburban sprawl in your rural area. This cancellation is the best thing that could have happens to the Blairs area, because Wal-Mart only displaces local merchants, and the ‘new’ jobs and taxes you spoke about, never really materialize in any significant way — because most of Wal-Mart’s sales come from existing businesses. Wal-Mart makes nothing. It only sells cheap goods imported from China. This is not the economic development future of Pittsylvania County. Look closer to home to your business community — the ones who plan to stick around. Wal-Mart arrives with their suitcase already packed, and in this case, all they left local officials with was some egg on your face. Don’t pin all your hopes on the national chain stores. They will leave you at the altar, just as Wal-Mart did this week.”