Like an aimless college student, Wal-Mart just spent four years studying in Hillsborough, New Hampshire. But after four years of research, Wal-Mart announced this week that it will not graduate, or earn a degree of any kind. Instead, the affluent retailer has nothing to show for its four years of lost time. Town officials in Hillsborough could not restrain their unhappiness, but Wal-Mart has closed the book on Hillsborough. “It’s a shock and a disappointment,” the planning director for the town told the Union-Leader newspaper. “A day or two before (the withdrawal) I got an email from a representative of Wal-Mart, and it looked like everything was a go.” Wal-Mart’s response to the media was that the company was scaling back its new supercenters. Hillsborough becomes another community spared the impact of a superstore because of citizen opposition across the nation. Wal-Mart told its shareholders last June that the company was rolling back new store openings. Several weeks ago Wal-Mart told investors it was scaling back on its plans to scale back. “At this time, our corporation has made the decision that this project is not in sync with our overall growth strategy,” Wal-Mart said in a press release, similar to the release they put out when the company suddenly withdrew from Lancaster, Massachusetts in mid-September. The company has been sending out more of such press releases in recent months. Local officials and the newspaper repeated the myth that Wal-Mart would bring 300 new jobs to Hillsborough, improve the tax base, and cut down on sale leakage to other communities. “The vast majority of people in town really wanted to see Wal-Mart because people are tired of driving so far to do their shopping,” the town’s planning director told the newspaper. But he wasn’t a member of Hillsborough Citizens for Positive Growth, who celebrated the news this week of Wal-Mart’s demise. “I was very excited,” said a member of the group. “I always liked Hillsborough as a small town, and typically when a Wal-Mart comes, that’s just the opposite of what happens. It changes the whole complexion of a town.” Citizens for Positive Growth had attempted on two occasions to get town residents to put a cap on the size of retail stores, as has been done throughout New England. Wal-Mart was only a month away from completing a state permitting process that has taken nearly two years.
“If they could have got in the ground in the spring,” lamented one local official, “they would have been under construction now.” What he doesn’t understand is that Wal-Mart’s rolling back of new superstores was done to make people on Wall Street happy — not people on Main Street. Wal-Mart’s sales have been cannibalized because of the saturation of stores. The fact is, there are 9 Wal-Marts within 30 miles of Hillsborough, the closest being the supercenter in Concord, New Hampshire 24 miles away. So in many respects, Wal-Mart can say they have the Hillsborough market already. Building a superstore in Hillsborough would have merely lowered the sales levels at their superstore in Concord. Hillsborough itself has fewer than 5,500 people — so the market draw was not compelling for a new supercenter. Wal-Mart had proposed a 155,000-s.f. super store, but site work had not yet begun. So while town officials are weeping in their beer, local opponents are toasting their four year battle with some champagne.