The city of Lynn Haven, Florida has a population of around 15,200 people. Lynn Haven boasts it has seven city parks, and has maintained its “small town appeal and is a great place to live.” Wal-Mart thought so too. If there was ever a company attracted by small town appeal — it’s Wal-Mart. The retailer is building a new supercenter in Lynn Haven, and the store is slated to open up at the end of 2009. Residents of Lynn Haven who are addicted to cheap, Chinese imports, don’t have far to go to find a Wal-Mart. There’s a Wal-Mart discount store on West 23rd Street just 4 miles away in Panama City, Florida. There’s also a Wal-Mart supercenter less than 7 miles away in Callaway, and another supercenter nearby in Panama City Beach. In fact, the superstore being built in Lynn Haven is so close to the existing discount store in Panama City, that locals wondered how the two stores could survive. The answer came this week from Wal-Mart: the smaller store in Panama City will close. The store is also listed for sale by Wal-Mart Realty, along with two other dead Wal-Mart stores in Florida. The Panama City store being shut down is 106,779 s.f. and was built in 1987. Even though this store is only 21 years old — Wal-Mart replaces buildings as often as some Americans replace cars. The store sits on 11.2 acres, and according to Wal-Mart, there are 132,713 people living within a 10 mile radius. For most retailers, a store this size in a trade area this size, would be more than enough to turn a nice profit. But Wal-Mart is shutting down all its discount stores that they can’t expand. A spokesman for the retailer confirmed this week to the Panama City News Herald that Wal-Mart store #1032 will soon be scrapped. “The intention is that the store would eventually close,” a company spokeswoman said. The corporation said it has no plans or date for the store’s closure. The Lynn Haven project also has four outparcels that will be used for other retailers or office space. According to the News Herald, when the Panama City Wal-Mart shuts down, the city will feel a “a substantial sales tax revenue loss.” For the year ending Sept. 30, 2008, the Wal-Mart in Panama City paid $511,089 in sales tax to the city. Panama City has had other retail losses recently. Circuit City closed down three months ago, as did Linen ‘N Things. Wal-Mart will be the third major national retailer to stiff Panama City.
There is no real added value to this Wal-Mart game of hopscotch. Lynn Haven wins, Panama City loses. There will be little or no job gain, because most of the employees at the 23rd Street store in Panama City will be offered jobs at the supercenter in Lynn Haven. “That’s our standard policy,” Wal-Mart said. But these workers will have to reapply for their old jobs. The only ‘new’ jobs this project brings are on the grocery side, and those jobs will be ‘captured’ from existing grocery stores in the Panama City area, such as Publix, Save-A-Lot, Shop And Save, and Winn-Dixie. There could be some sales growth from population expansion — but most of the sales at the new supercenter will be cannibalized from other nearby Wal-Mart supercenters, the lost Wal-Mart in Panama City, and area grocers. This is not a form of economic development, but rather its economic displacement. The Wal-Mart store in Panama City is a leased building, according to the retailer. When Wal-Mart vacates a building, they say they try to help the landowner re-tenant the property, according to a Wal-Mart spokesman. But some of these empty stores are hard to recycle, especially in an economy that is producing more and more dead retailers. Some stores just sit there and deteriorate. Readers are urged to email the Panama City Mayor Scott Clemons at [email protected] with the following message: “Dear Mayor Clemons, Welcome to the ‘Towns That Wal-Mart Killed Twice’ club — once on the way in, and once on the way out. As you know, Wal-Mart has already listed its West 23rd street store for rent. I am certain that if Wal-Mart had told city officials when their store opened in Panama City in 1987, that they would only stay for about two decades, the Commissioners might not have been so eager to let them in. As it stands, Wal-Mart kills off local merchants when they arrive, and then hurts city revenues when they leave. Your city might want to consider requiring landowners who leave their commercial spaces empty for more than 12 consecutive months to pay for the cost of tearing down the building to its pre-development state. Wal-Mart is leaving hundreds of ‘old’ discount stores behind — some of them build in the 1990s. They arrived in Panama City with their bags already packed. This case illustrates what can happen in the absence of any regional land use planning. If Lynn Haven and Panama City actually had planned together, you could have limited sites for these big box stores to go, so you didn’t get caught in the sprawl game of stealing each other’s revenue. The fact is, this superstore will draw sales from Panama City, and from the other superstores in Callaway and Panama City Beach. But don’t worry, Lynn Haven will eventually lose their store too, and someone else will build a newer, bigger mall, wasting more land in the process. There was no economic need for this superstore, but until your communities start planning together, the developers will continue to play one city off against another, and force communities to make terrible land use decisions just to chase sales tax revenue. Panama City has now learned the hard way that Wal-Mart has no loyalty to place. Every location is just a cash cow you milk until its dry, and then you move on. The good news is that some of your smaller merchant activity may be restored, now that Wal-Mart’s shadow is gone.”