Wal-Mart likes to tell local officials “we’re a retail magnet”, we attract businesses and sales. That must have a hollow ring now in the little community of Village, Oklahoma. According to The Oklahoman newspaper, in Village the rumors are rife that its only a matter of time before Wal-Mart shuts down its discount store on West Hefner Road and opens a supercenter two miles away in another community. Some people say the closure could come within the next year or so. Wal-Mart does not deny that the store is history, but says there is no formal timetable for boarding it up. The newspaper says: “There’s no telling when the store may close. But Wal-Mart officials won’t leve the city in the dark about its plans. That must be little consolation to the City Fathers who initially argued that Wal-Mart would be a cash cow for Village. Village, with a name that is the archetype of the small American town, has 3 main retail stores: a Wal-Mart, plus two grocery stores. Apparently not much other retail amounts to anything. Wal-Mart counts for 12.5% of the city’s annual revenues. So when they pack up, the City Manager says Village might have to raise taxes. “We’re not sure what the full impact is. It would not be responsible to propose (a higher tax rate) at this time,” the manager is quoted as saying. “Whatever Wal-Mart puts in there could supplant whatever we’ve been used to.” That’s assuming that the store doesn’s sit empty for years. Wal-Mart has hundreds of similar stores to lease on the market. So city residents, who welcomed Wal-Mart initially, are now trying to figure out how to raise revenue now that Wal-Mart has pulled the plug. One bright bulb came up with the idea of licensing vending machines in the city, but this would only raise $15,000 a year. “We’re hopeful that Wal-Mart gets someone in the building. They’re going to control what goes in there. All we can do is let them know what our feelings are about the situation and help them as much as we can,” says the City Manager. Village is hardly left in a bargaining position of any strength. So the city is also looking at cutting its municipal budget or cutting capital improvement projects. Because the Village has little available land for more growth, the city is now between a rock and a Wal-Mart. My, what just a little bit of regional land use planning could have done for Village and its surrounding communities. Oklahoma City gets the superstore, Village gets the dust. And our small town landscape, already saturated with retail stores, wastes another 20 acres or more on a redundant store just miles away from the shell of an empty one. Wasteful, mindless “progress” — all for the convenience of the corporation, not the consumer.
Village, Oklahoma will never appear in any Wal-Mart annual report or TV spot — but this city is a perfect example of the economic impact big corporate retailers can have on a community. It is a story that has been retold in many other Oklahoma towns already. See an excellent story in the New York Times dated March 5,1995 about the rise and fall of fortunes in Nowata, Pawhuska and Bixby, Oklahoma. So Village becomes yet another town that Wal-Mart kills twice — once when they come in, and once when they depart. Wal-Mart has shut down several hundred discount stores since the early 1990s, only to open up a supercenter a few miles away. It is enough to drain a town of revenues that local officials have come to depend upon. So what happens when Wal-Mart comes to town? Ask the City Manager of Village, who is now reduced to feebly admitting : “All we can do is let them know what our feelings are about the situation.” The relocation decision was made in Arkansas, and even though it has a negative impact on the community, Wal-Mart is closing down shop in The Village. Wal-Mart says it won’t leave the city in the dark, but the last one out, please turn off the lights. Whenever corporate profit goes up against commitment to the community, corporate profit wins out every time. Municipal Advisory: If you approve a Wal-Mart building permit, remember the city of Village, Oklahoma. If you become dependent on one or two retailers, you may wind up like Village: hoping for a miracle, while Wal-Mart takes the last cab out of town! Just one more American short story of The Portable Wal-Mart. Work with neighboring towns, set up regional agreements about commercial growth — or end up in a retail war in which Peter robs Paul.