A lot of Wal-Mart opponents in Derry, New Hampshire were disappointed to learn this week that Wal-Mart has decided to try to build a superstore in this community of 34,000 people.
The irony of course is that there already is a Wal-Mart discount store on Manchester Road in Derry — but Wal-Mart wants a bigger store so it can add a full line of groceries. There are, in fact, no less than 12 Wal-Mart stores within 18 miles of Derry, so the residents have plenty of places to get their cheap Chinese imports.
Two years ago, in March of 2008, Wal-Mart dropped plans to build a Derry superstore. But now the company says its plans are back on the drawing board — which means the company will leave behind a ‘dark store’ that could remain empty for years. According to the Lawrence Eagle Tribune newspaper, the site Wal-Mart covets now is the same location on Route 28 that it was developing two years ago.
Wal-Mart’s regional community manager issued the standard company statement about the on-again project. “We are excited to bring even more savings and convenience to the Derry community. Our relationship with the residents of this community has been long-standing and we look forward to continuing to serve the area.”
The new store will measure in at 147,000 s.f. Wal-Mart says the 160 people it employs at its current Derry store will be transferred to the new site, and that 85 new jobs will be created. This, of course, is a gross figure, and does not indicate the net jobs left once you subtract out the similar jobs that will be lost at existing grocery stores in the Derry trade area.
The existing Manchester Road location is 115,000 s.f. which is large enough to be a supercenter, so a second location is totally unnecessary. Wal-Mart could do an “in-box conversion,” in which the existing store footprint is simply reconfigured to make room for groceries. This would require no permits, no hearings, and no major controversy.
In the spring of 2008, Wal-Mart announced a major slow down in new store development. The company told Derry officials that the economy was the main reason the retailer was shutting down negotiations with the town. But Wal-Mart now says times have changed. “Due to changing dynamics in the regional and national economy, we feel this proposal is a good fit at this time,” the Wal-Mart spokesman told The Eagle Tribune.
Two years ago, during negotiations with the town, Wal-Mart was asked to come up with $1 million to help upgrade Route 28 for their new store. It turns out that town officials have been having private meetings with Wal-Mart for months, without the public knowing about it. “We’ve had some discussions with the real estate people over the last couple months,” Derry’s planning director admitted to the newspaper.
According to the town, a proposal may not be submitted until July or August. But the Derry Conservation Commission is looking over any wetlands impact this coming week.
Town officials seem to have no clue what this project means for the local economy.
“I think it’s great,” Derry Town Council Chairman Brad Benson told the Eagle-Tribune. “I think any further economic development Derry could get is good.” But is Wal-Mart a form of economic development, or simply a form of economic displacement?
The town council has no economic impact study before them, and “think” this project means jobs — but actually has no evidence that a supercenter means jobs. Another town councilor told the newspaper, “I’m happy they are going to come. But if it’s not them, then it will be someone else. If Wal-Mart comes, it will bring a lot of other people. Hopefully, it will be beneficial to Derry.”
But economic development should not be based on ‘hope.’ The reality is not only will Derry be left with a dead Wal-Mart to fill — and very few retailers want a 115,000 s.f. used building — but there is also an existing Wal-Mart superstore only 7 miles away in Salem, New Hampshire, which could also lose sales.
Wal-Mart admitted in its recently-released 2010 annual report that new stores often steal sales from existing stores, so the addition of new stores cuts into a key indicator called “same store sales growth,” which was very weak at Wal-Mart this year — in part because of the over saturation of stores — as in the Derry trade area.
Readers are urged to contact Derry Town Council Chairman Brad Benson at [email protected] with the following message: “Dear Chairman Benson, I was surprised to see your assessment of the proposed Wal-Mart superstore as being “great.” Why do you consider this a form of economic development?
I would urge you to check with your existing grocery stores in town to ask them how many people they employ, before you start counting your 85 promised jobs at Wal-Mart.
The town might also do well to put in place a surety bond for demolition of retail stores that sit empty for more than 12 months, because you are going to have a 115,000 s.f. dead store on your hands within a year after you green light Wal-Mart. The fact is a Wal-Mart superstore will make some things increase: crime, traffic, air pollution, noise and light pollution. It will make residential property values near the site go down. But that’s it. Another retailer in town just means one more player in the game of retail musical chairs.
A study several years ago concluded that for every one Wal-Mart supercenter that opens, two area grocery stores will close.
No, Wal-Mart is not “great” for Derry. One Wal-Mart in Derry is one more than enough. Instead of wasting more land and resources on a new store, why don’t you ask Wal-Mart to do an ‘in-box conversion’ at their existing store, by reformatting the interior floor space? That would be more sustainable, consume less energy, generate less pollution, and still give them increase market share.
Before you declare this kind of retail cannibalism “great,” do some research on Wal-Mart’s impact on municipal costs — especially public safety. Then you will understand why so many towns in New Hampshire have fought this suburban sprawl.”