Wal-Mart is systematically plodding its way across Massachusetts, seeking to expand its current inventory of discount stores into supercenters. Wal-Mart has seven supercenters in Massachusetts today, and 39 discount stores. The retailer is moving forward with plans to expand its existing discount stores in Massachusetts into supercenters — which are far more profitable operations. Two recent examples can be found in proposals currently in the works for Hudson and Springfield, Massachusetts. The existing Hudson store, at 280 Washington Street, is located only 9 miles from another Wal-Mart in Northborough, and 11 miles from the new Wal-Mart supercenter in Leominster. The town planner in Hudson believes on face value that allowing the discount store to add a grocery store will have the net effect of adding jobs to the area. Hudson has seen some growth over the past 20 years, but its population today is still less than 20,000 people. “The proposal they submitted calls for 100 new jobs,” Hudson’s Town Planner told the Metrowest Daily News. Wal-Mart is proposing to add another 21,000 s.f. to its existing store. The “new” grocery jobs at Wal-Mart will come from transferred sales from the Hannaford’s and Stop & Shop that serve the Hudson area. Almost no new jobs will result. Wal-Mart came to Hudson in 1992. Ten years later, they attempted to add a gas station in their parking lot, but fire officials in Hudson refused to give Wal-Mart a permit for an underground storage tank, citing the store’s many fire and safety code violations. Wal-Mart told the Metrowest Daily News, “In today’s economy, Wal-Mart recognizes the importance and convenience and low prices. We look forward to being able to bring those conveniences to the Hudson community.” Before going further, Wal-Mart has to set a date with the Hudson Planning Board to review the proposed site plan. Just as they make their move in Hudson, Wal-Mart is simultaneously moving ahead with similar plans further West, in the city of Springfield, Massachusetts. Wal-Mart plans to expand its discount store on Boston Road into a supercenter. The Springfield Republican newspaper reports that the Wal-Mart in Springfield, which was opened in 1993, will add 28,000 s.f., for a total size of 150,000 s.f. in size. Wal-Mart has already met with abutters, and on February 10th will meet with the Pine Point Community Council. A Springfield city official says Wal-Mart doesn’t need any permit or approval from the planning office. But the project could disturb wetlands behind the store, so it will be reviewed by the city’s Conservation Commission. According to the Republican, the project may also have some traffic-related issues at its entrance that will require city Department of Public Works approval. Wal-Mart’s expansion into Springfield comes as area competitor Big Y is laying off workers. A Wal-Mart spokesman claims that the Springfield area is “underserved” for low-cost groceries. But Big Y just opened a 64,000 s.f. supermarket in nearby Wilbraham, and Stop & Shop has two supermarkets just a short drive from the existing Wal-Mart. As in Hudson, Wal-Mart is telling local officials that the expansion will result in 100 new jobs.
Wal-Mart has no research to demonstrate that a new superstore in Hudson or Springfield will result in any new jobs. These projects will result in transferred sales, which do not expand the job base — simply shift it from one location to another. If Wal-Mart eats into the sales at Big Y or Stop & Shop, existing jobs will be lost, and grocery stores could even close. Both Springfield and Hudson are hungry for new development — but that’s not what Wal-Mart represents. In Massachusetts, sales taxes do not remain at the local level, but are collected by the state and redistributed. That makes retail projects weak leaders of economic growth. Retail expands as discretionary income and population expands — or by cannibalizing itself. There is little or no added value from these projects to either community, but local officials tend to repeat what they are told, and planners want to use these projects as resume-builders for their next job. Homeowners are left wondering why big box stores never seem to lower their tax bills. The truth is these projects have only a marginal financial impact on cities and towns. Readers are urged to email Santino Parente, the Chairman of the Hudson Board of selectman, at [email protected], and Springfield Mayor Domenic J. Sarno, at http://www.springfieldcityhall.com/planning/contact-hanson.0.html with the following message: “I am writing to urge you to reject the expansion plans that Wal-Mart is seeking. I hope you will not fall for the pitch that expanding a Wal-Mart discount store into a superstore will mean jobs and revenue for your community. Don’t believe for a second that 100 new jobs will result from this proposal. Remember that Wal-Mart makes nothing: they are just a retailer, and most of what they sell is already being sold by existing retailers. Adding a grocery store does not increase the amount of groceries your residents will purchase. This expansion plan is basically about shifting more market share from existing merchants, to Wal-Mart. This cannot be described as economic development. It’s really economic displacement, and it explains why so many existing merchants in our area have gone out of business or cutback jobs. Expanded Wal-Marts can lead to job loss, even closed grocery stores. I urge you to reject this expansion proposal, and see it for what it truly is: a form of retail musical chairs.”