Sprawl-Busters first heard from citizens in Monroeville, Pennsylvania back in June of 2005. They were organizing to fend off a Wal-Mart supercenter proposal. Three months later, the group accomplished its purpose.
Sprawl-Busters reported on September 17, 2005 that the Monroeville City Council had voted to reject Wal-Mart. On a vote close to midnight, the Council voted 5-2 against Wal-Mart’s plans. The retailer was seeking to rezone 21.6 acres of land from industrial to commercial use, so it could build a 203,818 s.f. store on the border with the town of Pitcairn.
Wal-Mart patched together a series of lots to create enough room for the huge store. The Council’s vote overturned a planning commission vote, which had narrowly recommended the plan on a 3-2 vote. The Walnut Capital Development Corp., which was pushing the Wal-Mart, told the newspaper that Wal-Mart has been trying to build a store in Monroeville for 10 years.
The developer started offering money to the town in a fruitless attempt to bolster its support: a promise of $35,000 to Pitcairn for a comprehensive plan, $50,000 for a transportation improvement district, $25,000 each to Pitcairn and Monroeville for fire and ambulance services. Wal-Mart offered to build a parking lot, restrooms and a concession stand at the ball fields located next to the store, and give Pitcairn an electronic message board for community announcements.
Wal-Mart told local officials that their store would generate half a million dollars annually in tax revenue — a figure that was a gross number, not a net impact figure. In the end, all these offerings weren’t enough to sway the City Council, which ended Wal-Mart’s quest — because municipalities are under no obligation to rezone land for anyone.
But this week, more than four and a half years later, local residents in Monroeville have reported to Sprawl-Busters that Wal-Mart is back — at a different site and at a much smaller size.
The Pittsburg Tribune Review ran a story on May 21st that Wal-Mart wants to move into the Monroeville Mall, in a store that once housed a Boscov department store. According to the real estate firm CB Richard Ellis, which does a lot of work for Wal-Mart Realty, Wal-Mart is willing to consider an 80,000 s.f. store. The Boscov store has three levels, and totals 230,000 s.f. — the size of superstores that Wal-Mart used to build on one story.
Wal-Mart doesn’t need a huge superstore in Monroeville anyway, because it would only cannibalize sales at the Wal-Mart superstore in North Versailles, Pennsylvania, which is a mere three miles from the site. There is a second supercenter less than 10 miles away in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania. So the real estate firm marketing the Boscov store is suggesting that a JC Penney and a movie complex could also fit into the empty department store.
The mall owner, a company based in Tennessee, is saying nothing about who might go into the Mall. “We continue to pursue various opportunities for the Boscov’s store, but at this time we are not able to provide any names,” a spokeswoman for the owner told the Tribune Review.
In 2005, the opponents of Wal-Mart were described in the media as a “loose coalition of neighbors, merchants and Pitcairn public officials.” They turned out for four council hearings, and flooded council members with calls, and personal visits. Many of those opponents are still in Monroeville, and still against Wal-Mart. They understand that it will be harder to fight a smaller store going into an existing mall, but they also know that it makes no sense to build another superstore three miles from an existing superstore.
You would think that Wal-Mart would know better too. The company has long admitted that by packing stores in so densely, Wal-Mart eats into its own “same store” sales, which is a comparison of sales in stores that have been open at least a year. Wal-Mart hopes to gain market share from the existing Giant Eagle grocery store nearby, and the Sheetz grocery store. These regional chains have a market share that Wal-Mart wants to capture, but in the process it will pull Monroeville shoppers out of the North Versailles store.
Readers are urge to email Monroeville Mayor Gregory Erosenko at [email protected] with the following message: “Dear Mayor Erosenko, You told voters last January that Monroeville was “on course for a better future.” But if you approve a Wal-Mart project at the Monroeville Mall, you will be on course for more traffic, more crime, and more business closings. Because you have a Wal-Mart superstore just minutes away in North Versailles, another Wal-Mart offers no added value to your economy. Most sales at Wal-Mart will be captured from existing department and grocery stores in the immediate trade area, because Wal-Mart is just another large supplier for a population base that has not increased dramatically over the past 20 years.
With a fairly stagnant demand, added supply only slices everyone’s pie thinner. A 2003 study suggests that for every one Wal-Mart superstore that opens, two local grocery stores will close. Perhaps you should talk to the local managers at Giant Eagle and Sheetz about how this project will impact their businesses.
I urge you to do what Monroeville did five years ago: say no to superstore sprawl. You already have a Wal-Mart nearby. Don’t overplay your hand.”