Sprawl-busters in Ticonderoga, NY fought against Wal-Mart and lost. A Wal-Mart supercenter opened there in August of 1998, outside of the downtown, along a major highway. The Adirondack Daily Enterprise recently published an account of what has happened to retailers in Ticonderoga over the past eight months since Wal-Mart came to town. Writer Phil Gallos took the time to interview merchants in Ticonderoga, to find out if the rosy assessment provided to the media by Town Supervisors was really accurate. Gallos writes: “Howard Rathbun at Rathbun jewelers says overall traffic in his store is down 20%. Dick Arthur at Arthur Drugs says that while his prescription business is holding, his sales tax figuires are down, also by 20%, indicating a corresponding fall in taxable sales. Rick Osier, Rite Aid’s manager, says traffic at his store is ‘down quite considerably from last year at this time’. Douglas Spaulding says ‘traffic has definitely decreased’ at his Agway store. Fred Vialt, Aubuchon’s manager, says his traffic is down nearly 20%. Big A Auto Parts owner Glen Moorby says he has seen at least a 25% decrease in his business. Valerie Mullin, whose NeedleWorks & Crafts Plus is one of two she owns, is closing the Ticonderoga store. Her overall sales have fallen 50%, beginning in August. One merchant, who didn’t want her business identified (‘I might want to sell this place’), said she’d had her worst Christmas season in thirteen years…Thus far, I have spoken with only one retailer reporting a business increase. Charlie Eisenberg, who owns The Cobbler’s Bench furniture store, says his sales have gone up about 10%, but he immediately adds: ‘We don’t rely on street traffic..the people around me are dropping like flies.” Gallos says that the Great American Market, a grocery store downtown, first cut its operating hours, and dropped its payroll from 27 people to 17. Then, on January 16th, the grocery closed the store completely, the end of the only full-service grocery store in downtown Ticonderoga. According to the Ticonderoga community development agency, the people who shopped at the GAM were the elderly, low income people without access to a car. Gallos notes 3 other businesses pulled out of Ticondeeroga as soon as they heard Wal-Mart was approved to build. One outdoor outfitter’s store owner said:”It wasn’t that I couldn’t compete. If you don’t have the traffic, you can’t stay in business.” Gallos concludes: “That’s 12 out of 14 Montacalm Street businesses adversely affected, five of which — either in anticipation of or following Wal-Mart’s arrival — have ‘gone belly up’…Virtually without exception, these business people have said that Wal-Mart is drawing traffic away from their downtown” “I’ve been here 25 years,” says a local Sunoco station owner, “On the week before Christmas in prior years, you couldn’t find a parking space on this street. This year, you could have landed a plane on it”
A footnote from Gallos: “Wal-Mart is not in business to bring business to small towns. They are in business to bring business to Wal-Mart — and keep it there. They do not want to locate in town centers. They do not want to ‘share’ the traffic they generate. Already rent for some storefronts there are half of what they were pre-Wal-Mart, and still nobody wants them. It is merely a matter of time before the landlords go to the Town asking for a reduction in assessment. Whether they get their taxes cut or not, some will find it increasingly difficult to maintain their buildings. Living conditions in the upstairs apartments — rented mostly by people with limited incomes, will deteriorate. Tenants will move out, if they can. Others will find themselves shut out when buildings are condemned or abandoned. In either case, the result is a loss to the tax rolls of what were once vital properties, a loss of low income housing resource, a loss of viable commercial space, not to mention the collateral debilitation of what remains of the business district, let alone the loss of jobs. And what about disrupted lives, endangered livelihoods, trashed dreams, and thwarted aspirations? How are these accounted for on the Town’s ledger?” When Wal-Mart comes to town, it usually takes several years for the impact of the store to be measured. In Ticonderoga, only pilots have any interest now in landing in the downtown. Actual interviews with area merchants speak louder than any impact statement, or Wal-Mart TV ad. At Wal-Mart, they make dust. Their competitors eat dust.