Frenchtown, Michigan becomes the 49th community to see its proposed Wal-Mart supercenter either cancelled or delayed since last June. Wal-Mart has four stores for sale or lease in Michigan, not counting the one in Frenchtown township. The discount store in Frenchtown will only be open until the Wal-Mart supercenter gets built there — if that ever happens. Because, for now, the project is on ice. Frenchtown has a population of around 22,000, and is a largely agricultural community in eastern Monroe County on the shores of Lake Erie. According to the Monroe News, Wal-Mart is delaying this superstore project — but not killing it outright. Instead of starting construction on the store in 2008, the company has pushed it back until 2009, which means it will not open until 2010. Opponents of the project know that today’s delay can turn into tomorrow’s cancellation. Last June, Wal-Mart announced that it was delaying 80 stores for at least one year, due to a change in its growth strategy. In Frenchtown, city officials blamed the delay on site-specific issues — but ultimately noted that “general economic conditions” were to blame. Frenchtown Township Supervisor James McDevitt said the construction timetable was delayed due to the need to remove a rail spur on the site, and relocation of a water main. “They had some mitigation of the some property they had to do for wetlands and they also had a railroad spur coming in that has to be removed. They’re still working it out with the railroad company when that work can be done.” But then he added: “Also, with the way the economy is, they just felt it was a good time to hold off and wait till next year,” he added. Yet Wal-Mart says it is doing very well during the recession — — and will do even better if Americans start spending their federal tax rebate checks at Wal-Mart. In the meantime, an vacant lumber retailer is being torn down on the supercenter site, as well as a trucking business. “We are making sure the buildings they purchased on the property will be removed,” McDevitt told the newspaper. “They’re getting to be an eyesore and people have been stealing windows, siding, and everything else off of them.” It appears that the city’s taxpayers are paying for this site work, not Wal-Mart.
Speaking of eyesores, as soon as the Frenchtown supercenter is built, the township will have another eyesore to deal with: the “old” Wal-Mart discount store across the street from the supercenter on North Telegraph Road. Wal-Mart says it will put its existing store up for lease. The company often tells local residents that it will convert the “old” store into a Sam’s Club — but that rarely happens. There are 26 Sams Clubs today in Michigan, but city officials in Frenchtown township said that Wal-Mart would have had to tear down the existing Wal-Mart, and then build a new Sam’s Club. “Some people didn’t see the rationale for that,” the Monroe News admitted. But the Township’s Supervisor explained that Wal-Mart would tear down the building, write it off as a loss, and then build the kind of store dimensions that better suited a Sam’s Club. All through this recent period, Wal-Mart has said nothing publicly, leaving the explanations to city officials. Readers are urged to call Frenchdtown Supervisor James McDevitt at 734-242-5800 with the following message: “Supervisor McDevitt, One Wal-Mart in Frenchtown is one more than enough. It is absurd to have Wal-Mart abandon its discount store on North Telegraph, only to build a superstore across the street. When the superstore opens, the discount store becomes one more “dark store” to Wal-Mart. There will be no Sam’s Club, there will be no new retailer. Now is the time for Frenchtown to negotiate a developer’s agreement with Wal-Mart which stipulates that they deposit a demolition bond with the city, and if their existing store on Telegraph remains empty for 24 months, the city will be authorized to tear down the building at Wal-Mart’s expense. This new superstore will bring no added value economically to Frenchtown. It will only steal sales from existing grocers in the Frenchtown/Monroe trade area. The supercenter is a waste of 35 acres for no economic development results. Use the delay in the supercenter’s plans to negotiate a better deal for the taxpayers of Frenchtown.”