Towns with populations under 10,000 do not need their own Wal-Mart supercenter — but the company’s saturation strategy puts big stores in small places, despite the lack of consumer need. On September 18, 2004, Sprawl-Busters reported that residents in Hermantown, Minnesota had an armload of concerns about a proposed Wal-Mart supercenter in their community, and had formed a new group to protect their interests. The Duluth News Tribune wrote that a group called Good Neighbors for Responsible Growth met in the Hermantown City Hall to discuss the environmental issues raised by the proposed 203,000-s.f. supercenter that would replace the Wal-Mart that Hermantown already has. The Wal-Mart supercenter would be the largest commercial building in Hermantown’s history — twice the size of the existing Wal-Mart. Neighbors raised concerns about the abutting Miller Creek, a designated trout stream, and the potential runoff from the huge parking lot that could impact this creek. One local gas station owner also attended the meeting, and told the newspaper, “It’s not that we’re against business growth or development, but they’re a monopoly. When they price things below your cost, you can’t compete.” Hermantown’s Mayor at the time, Dave Allen, didn’t seem to be concerned about the Good Neighbor’s issues, and said that the group had not come to the City Council yet. “We already have a Wal-Mart,” Allen reminded the public. “It’s not an issue where they are coming in brand-new.” In 2004 the developer was completing an environmental assessment Worksheet. Residents argued that the environmental impacts warranted a more detailed EIS (environmental impact statement). Wal-Mart wanted to begin construction on the supercenter, and open it by the end of 2005. But three years later, there is still no Wal-Mart supercenter in Hermantown. The News Tribune says this week that the project is not dead, however, its just changed shape. Wal-Mart now is on a fast track to expand its existing store by some 66,000 square feet — rather than build a new one. Expansion plans were submitted to the City Council this week. “We are very excited about bringing a Supercenter to the Duluth market,” said a Wal-Mart senior manager for public affairs for in Minnesota and Wisconsin. She noted that Wal-Mart is doing well during this recession, with a 6.5 percent growth in total sales from 2007 to 2008. She did not mention Wal-Mart’s recent sluggish sales in January. The major change in Wal-Mart’s plans revolve around the decision not to demolish the store completely, and erect a store 70% bigger. Instead, the retailer will remodel their existing location on Mall Drive by 50%. The idea of a 203,000 s.f. store has been dropped. The City Council was supportive of the original plan, but the Good Neighbors group raised vocal opposition to the plan. A state official with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency told the News Tribune that the scaled back project “has the potential for less impact than the previous proposal.” Wal-Mart has scratched plans for a 16 pump gas station, and has added rain gardens and underground storm water retention ponds to help catch and cool storm water runoff before it flows into Miller Creek. The impact of stormwater runoff was a big issue in the company’s first unsuccessful bid. The state pollution control agency required that runoff not raise the water temperature in Miller creek, which the newspaper reports “has taken a beating from area development.” But the plan still has its environmental problems. It will disturb nearly 10,000 s.f. of wetlands. If the disturbance was over 10,000 s.f., Wal-Mart would have had to replicate the lost wetland area elsewhere. The Hermantown Planning Commission is expected to hold a public hearing on the proposed plat and a new commercial industrial permit on February 17th.
The city of Hermantown had only 9,271 people as of 2007. It lies a short drive northwest of Duluth. The area does not need another Wal-Mart supercenter. There’s one 10 miles due south in Superior, Wisconsin, and a second supercenter 13 miles west of Hermantown in Cloquet, Minnesota. Wal-Mart is simply trying to gain more grocery share with this store by expanding it into a supercenter. Readers are urged to email Hermantown Mayor Wayne Boucher at [email protected] with the following message: “Dear Mayor Boucher, As someone who was raised in Hermantown, you have watched the community evolve over the years. You know that the Wal-Mart on Mall Drive is certainly large enough for the needs of your community, which has roughly 10,000 residents. This is about one-fifth of the population base a superstore needs. This store will have to draw from a regional trade area, yet you already have superstores to your south and west. This is really Duluth’s supercenter, placed in your city. So the net benefits in revenue and jobs from this superstore are negligible — because the only new jobs will come from the addition of a grocery store. All this expansion will do is take sales away from places like Superamerica, Cub Foods, or Paulson’s SuperValu. This is not economic development for Hermantown, it’s economic displacement. Open a supercenter, close down one or two grocery stores. The biggest waste is that Wal-Mart could simply reformat its existing discount store into a superstore, with no required expansion. Either way, all this project will do is increase the traffic and the crime at this location. A superstore expansion is a super mistake for a small community like Hermantown, and when Wal-Mart leaves this store, you will have a larger hulk left to fill. I urge you to reject this expansion.”