At any point in time, Wal-Mart has more than 200 dead stores on the market. These are buildings — more than a third of them — which are larger than 100,000 s..f, and which were built in the 1990s. The stores were not abandoned because they were unprofitable. They were left empty because in 1998 Wal-Mart decided that bigger stores made bigger profits. Cities and towns were unconcerned enough about land use to allow these “superstores” to gobble up land wastefully, sometimes right down the street from the ‘old’ store being vacated. The town of Ferriday, Louisiana is a tiny community of roughly 3,562 people — less than the 4,111 people the town had 17 years earlier in 1990. A town this small makes no sense for hosting a Wal-Mart supercenter, so the giant retailer moved the Ferriday store to nearby Vidalia, 6.4 miles away. Vidalia has a population of 4,142 people. It too has lost population since 1990, when the census stood at 4,952. Neither Vidalia nor Ferriday combined warrant a superstore, and there is a second superstore 12 miles from Ferriday in Natchez, Mississippi. Wal-Mart was building superstores every few miles in this part of the country, because it was easy to get permitted, and Sam Walton endorsed the saturation theory. But as the superstores began to appear, the discount stores, like the one in Ferriday, were shut down. Today, Wal-Mart Realty has 33 properties for sale or lease in Louisiana, including 8 ‘ghost box’ buildings. In 2005, when the Ferriday Wal-Mart store closed to make way for the Vidalia superstore, Louisiana had 15 dead stores for sale, with 1.17 million square feet of empty space. The 41,000 s.f. Ferriday store was not on the list. This week, the Natchez Democrat newspaper reports that a local lumber company has agreed to buy the old Wal-Mart store, which has been empty since 2005. A company called Budget Build, which handles lumber and building supply materials, has purchased one of the largest buildings in the town. The move won’t actually happen until early in 2009. Budget Build will, in turn, leave is existing space of 25,000 s.f. “It will be a lot better conditions,” a spokesman for Budget Build said . “I’ll be able to enlarge the hardware section from 4,000 to 10,000 feet. I have plans to use it all.” The owner told the Natchez Democrat, “We are going to redo the building inside and out — we are going to try to spruce it up and buy some new shelving. I want it to look as nice as it can.” The move to larger quarters will create 3 to 5 new jobs. “If sales increase, like we think they will, we’ll hire more than that,” he said. This will hardly make up for the jobs lost when Wal-Mart closed down its discount store.
Ferriday’s main claim to fame is the “Ferrday Five.” The five includes 3 cousins: Rock & Roll Hall of Fame star Jerry Lee Lewis, his cousins the preacher Jimmy (Lee) Swaggert, and country singer Mickey Gilley. Journalist Howard K. Smith and TV news anchor Campbell Brown round out the Ferriday Five. The town also houses the Delta Music Museum, and is known as a sportman’s paradise, with 300 miles of water. But since 2005, it’s also been a community where Wal-Mart pulled out. These commuities are known as the “towns that Wal-Mart killed twice,” once on the way in, and again on the way out. The store at 2204 North 4th street sat empty for far too long. Readers are urged to email Ferriday’s Mayor Glen McGlothin at [email protected] with the following message: “Dear Mayor McGlothin, Your tiny town was just one of many Louisiana communities that watched a Wal-Mart store come and go. Vidalia’s slightly larger population than Ferriday certainly did not justify the move on Wal-Mart’s part. While everyone hopes that Budget Build will do well at its new location in the old Wal-Mart store, the number of jobs lost when Wal-Mart moved was far greater than the jobs gained from an expanded Budget Build. When you invite in national chain stores, you can expect that they will arrive with their bags already packed. Ferriday should pass a zoning ordinance that requires a building owner to put up a demolition bond, to be exercised by the town to raze the building if it sits empty for more than 12 consecutive months. Wal-Mart left you at the altar — and it can’t feel good. Remember that feeling when you propose to the town the adoption of a zoning ordinance to prevent large buildings in Ferriday from remaining closed for years. Do it now, while the memory of how Wal-Mart abandoned you is still fresh.”