The City Manager in Greenwood, South Carolina says that the mall that used to house the town’s Wal-Mart is now a Ghost-Mart. Two years ago Wal-Mart moved out of the mall and built a supercenter just outside the city limits. That left Greenwood with an empty mall and reduced property values. “I keep hearing they have potential tenants,” City Manager Steven Brown told the Charlotte Observer. “But I see people leave more than I see people come in.” Wal-Mart admits that it owns 656,000 s.f. of vacant stores in South Carolina alone. The national figure Wal-Mart cited in the 1998 Annual Report was 10 million square feet of “once-occupied stores.” Wal-Mart says it has 8 empty stores in South Carolina, with 3 more about to go dark. Lancaster, SC is just such a place. Wal-Mart put up a supercenter in Lancaster and is about to shut down a 95,000 s.f. store in another strip mall in town. For most small towns, a 95,000 s.f. store is like trying to fill Madison Square Garden. “It’s not very easy at all,” one Charleston, SC retail consultant told the Observere. “It tends to have an emotional impact when the terrain is littered with the carcasses of buildings.” In York, SC, the new Wal-Mart supercenter at 804 E. Liberty St. has replaced the “old” Wal-Mart at 970 E. Liberty Street, just down the road a piece. The old Wal-Mart has only been empty for five months or so, but it is the headache of a private landlord. In fact, Wal-Mart has been sued many times by landlords who charge the company has walked out on its lease. These leases sometimes do not require Wal-Mart to have a continuously occupied store. Often the landlords get a low base rent plus some percentage of the sales.So when Wal-Mart departs, the landlord is left only with the base rent, which is often not enough to keep the property maintained. One shopper in York told a reporter that the old, empty Wal-Mart looked “pitiful”, but he’s gotten used to seeing dead malls. “I’ve thought about it from time to time,” he said. “Seems like a waste.” Over in Greenwood, for two years the old Wal-Mart has been converted into a Ghost-Mart.
Wal-Mart had admitted in court that they have relocated hundreds of stores before their lease even ran out. Don’t expect a long term relationship with these companies. They arrive with their bags already packed. Often the move is across the street, across town, or just over the town line. And all just so Wal-Mart can grow from 95,000 to 200,000 s.f. As the Mayor of Northfield, MN likes to say: “It’s not how big you grow, but how you grow big.” The Wal-Mart you see today, is the Ghost-Mart you’ll shake your head at tomorrow.