The world’s biggest retailer is in a frantic race to beat a small town in Maine before it imposed a size cap on retail stores.
Wal-Mart has an existing store on Route 1 in Falmouth, Maine, one of the main tourist route up the eastern spine of Maine. The current store in Falmouth is ‘only’ 84,000 s.f., or nearly one and a half times the size of a football field. But that’s not big enough for Wal-Mart, which now wants to expand into an adjacent property to enlarge its share of the retail pie in Falmouth.
This week, Wal-Mart revealed that it has signed a lease agreement with the owner of a mall to expand into space now occupied by a movie theater that is going out of business.
“We recently signed a lease with the landlord to expand the existing store in Falmouth,” a Wal-Mart spokesman told the Press Herald newspaper. “It is something that was just begun. We don’t have a timeline.”
But there is a timetable — and its urgent! Wal-Mart is in a big rush to get this expansion done before the town imposes a 75,000 s.f. cap on retail uses, which would void the Wal-Mart expansion. In fact, a 75,000 s.f. cap would make the current Wal-Mart into a non-conforming use, which would not affect its current operation, but would make it impossible to expand.
Wal-Mart wants to add 36,000 s.f. to their current store, bringing the total square footage up to 120,000 s.f. The new space would basically be adding a full line grocery to their current store.
Falmouth is community of just over 10,000 people north of Portland, Maine. In addition to having its own Wal-Mart, Falmouth shoppers can get to a Wal-Mart supercenter 13 mils away in Windham, Maine. The big losers in Falmouth if another grocery store is added would be the Shaw’s and Hannaford’s grocery stores currently in the town. Most of Wal-Mart’s sales would be captured from those two food stores.
Wal-Mart’s announcement was clearly timed to influence the December 13th meeting of the Falmouth Town Council, which will take up the size cap ordinance at that meeting. Wal-Mart is trying to present its expansion plans as a jobs proposal, which will add 30 to 50 ‘new’ jobs — but in fact the proposal offers no added value to the local economy, because Wal-Mart’s jobs will be transfers from existing merchants already operating in Falmouth.
If the town does not act soon, Wal-Mart will end up exporting more money out of Maine to Bentonville, Arkansas.
An 84,000 s.f. store is large enough for Wal-Mart to convert easily into a supercenter, without taking up more space.
The company has proposed superstores that size this year in other states, like Florida, and has been doing ‘in box conversions’ in states like Wisconsin. So the expanded space is not really critical to the success of the store — only to Wal-Mart’s desire to grab more market share away from existing businesses.
While this improves their bottom line, it will concentrate more of the food store market in one company’s hands, which is not good for the Falmouth consumer.
Readers are urged to call Tony Payne, the Chairman of the Falmouth, Maine Town Council after hours at (207) 781-5253 x 5314 and leave the following message:
“This is a message for Council Chairman Tony Payne: You are the head of the Alliance for Maine’s Future. You know that a strong Maine economy depends on the existence of many local merchants, with money spent recirculating locally.
Out-of-state big box stores extract capital from Maine, and leave you with less jobs than you started with. You also know that scale in a small town is important. There is no need for Wal-Mart to expand beyond 84,000 s.f. That’s almost one and a half times the size of a football field! I urge you to lead the Town Council to place a 75,000 s.f. cap on retail stores, and avoid suburban sprawl along Route 1. Thank you!”