Wal-Mart stockholders are going to have to learn how to be patient if the giant retailer keeps pushing neighbors around. After two and half years in court, a local resident’s group in Batavia, New York has run out of room to block a proposed Wal-Mart expansion. But in many ways, the citizens have already scored a significant victory just by keeping the project in limbo for so long. The group, Batavia First, had put a Wal-Mart expansion project on ice since March of 2004. Wal-Mart proposed to expand its current 125,000 s.f. discount store in Batavia into a 208,000 s.f. supercenter. The lawsuit by Batavia First charged that the town’s Planning and Zoning Board failed to follow the legal procedures in approving the expansion. Batavia First won its appeal before a New York State Supreme Court Judge. But Wal-Mart appealed that decision, and the lower court ruling was overturned. Batavia First then stuck with the case and appealed to the Court of Appeals. But on September 12th, the Court of Appeals ruled against Batavia First. “We’re very pleased that the litigation has come to an end,” said Wal-Mart’s attorney. The citizen’s group is still mulling its options for further ways to stop the project.
This is a hardly a victory for the beleaguered Batavia Wal-Mart. The company already had a store in town, and wanted to expand it to add a grocery component. Because of the organizing work of Batavia First, Wal-Mart was forced to wait two and a half years — and it still isn’t over yet. That delay cost Wal-Mart hundreds of millions of dollars in lost sales, and demonstrates how a citizen’s group can slow down the production of new units. Such opposition is not lost on Wall Street investors, who tell their clients that Wal-Mart projects are increasingly contentious, that the days of rapid approvals are over, and that resident opposition makes the projects increasingly unpopular. We have groups like Batavia First to thank for this kind of result. Wal-Mart may assert that they are “very pleased” with having to wait two and a half years to expand, but such controversy is hurting the company’s image on Main Street, USA, and on Wall Street as well. For earlier stories on Batavia’s long dance with Wal-Mart, search Newsflash by the town’s name.