Swansea, Massachusetts is a small community of roughly 16,000 people in southeastern Massachusetts, bordered by Barrington and Warren, Rhode Island, on the west and southwest, about 47 miles south of Boston, and 12 miles southeast of Providence, Rhode Island. The community already has a 100,000 s.f. Wal-Mart discount store at the Swansea Mall, which calls itself “a complete entertainment experience.” But now, as part of its drive to replace all discount stores, Wal-Mart has applied to build a bigger superstore in Swansea. The new store would expand to 161,000 s.f. according to a site plan submitted to the town by the mall’s owner, the Carlyle Development Group, based in White Plains, New York. Carlyle has been around since 1982, and calls itself an “expert in identifying undervalued real estate.” Carlyle bought the Swansea Mall six years ago from an insurance company, and the New York State Pension Fund. At that time, half of the four anchor spots at the Mall were vacant. Macy’s and Sears are two existing anchors in the Swansea Mall. Swansea’s Zoning Board was scheduled to meet this week to take up the expansion request — but apparently Wal-Mart doesn’t know about it. A company spokesman told the Providence Journal, “Wal-Mart has no publicly announced plans for Swansea at this time.” A formal site plan proposal submitted to a town is a “publicly announced plan,” yet the company was clearly not ready to lift the veil from its proposal. What Wal-Mart is doing in southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island, is systematically expanding or replacing its inventory of discount stores — most of which were built in the 1990s. Wal-Mart says it wants to build supercenters in North Attleboro, Massachusetts, in Woonsocket and Warwick, Rhode Island. These three supercenter proposals are relocations from existing stores — so three “dark stores” will be created by this power shift into larger boxes. Wal-Mart already has two supercenters in Rhode Island, which calls itself the “Ocean State,” but the ocean increasingly seems to refer to the ocean of asphalt created by big box developers. A Wal-Mart opened in the city of Providence, Rhode Island this year.
Wal-Mart’s plans for a supercenter at Swansea Mall are “very preliminary,” the Mall’s general manager told the newspaper. Even though the hearing process has already begun, Wal-Mart is keeping a very low profile, as it often does, knowing that all it takes is the shadow of a Wal-Mart to get local citizens upset. In this case, building inside an existing mall, it would be a challenge for local residents to fight it. Yet the project will kick up the traffic flow in and out of the mall, which will have an impact on the surrounding roadways. There are oftaen often other local zoning problems that such expansions trigger. The expansion from a discount store to a superstore also will do nothing economically for the area, because all that is being added is another grocery store, which will, in all likelihood, have the impact of stealing market share from other competitors in the area, like Stop & Shop, a unionized store. Wal-Mart often remains hidden when negotiating new store deals — but this is not a new store, and there is no competitor who can take this project away from them. The company’s reluctance to talk about its plans, and its statements that it has “no publicly announced plans” for the supercenter, indicate just how concerned the company is with anti-Wal-Mart sentiment. Normally by this stage one would expect some hoopla and fanfare when a retailer announces it is expanding its store in a community. But not Wal-Mart. The fact is, the lower profile they keep, the less the community knows, and the less objections will be made to the adverse impacts of this superstore on the community. When it comes to Wal-Mart supercenters, the retailer likes to talk less — always. Readers are urged to blow Wal-Mart’s cover in Swansea by calling the Swansea Zoning Board of Appeals at 508-674-5731. Tell them: “Swansea already has a Wal-Mart nearly two times the size of a football field. We don’t need one three times the size of a football field. This project will create no new jobs — only more cars and more crime at the Swansea Mall. We urge the ZBA to reject this huge expansion.”