When I did the 60 Minutes TV show in 1995, part of the segment focused on how a small Wal-Mart in Donaldsonville, Louisiana, only 43,148 s.f., had put under the town’s historic department store. At the time, Wal-Mart said that it had absolutely no plans to shut down the existing Wal-Mart to build a larger store. Well, ten years later, Wal-Mart has finally done what we knew they would do all along: they have abandoned their “little” 43,148 s.f. discount store, a yellow and brown building put up in 1983, and replaced it with a shiny 100,100 s.f supercenter. The 60 Minutes story bought the old Wal-Mart several more years of life, because it would have been too embarassing for the company to shut down the store, as critics like me had said they would do. So they sat on the property, and waited. This month, on land that was annexed from the Parish into the town, Wal-Mart finally got its superstore, but the town and the parish had to first agree to split the sales taxes between the town and the parish. The Mayor called the deal “a long journey”, turning cane fields into asphalt and concrete. There is no word on what will become of the old store on Highway 1, but its now one of more than 350 stores that Wal-Mart Realty is trying to unload. Wal-Mart passed out the usual large checks for $17,000 for some local charities, and the state Representative said the superstore will allow people to “shop at one place instead of going from shop to shop.” He apparently has no concept of how such a statement would sound to existing businesses in town, of which there may be only enough left to count on one hand.
I guess Wal-Mart felt that enough time had passed that they could now quietly close down the existing Donaldsonville Wal-Mart that Sprawl-Busters said they would shut down. The existing store was dowdy, and only the size of one football field. It had already done an economic number on Donaldsonville, so might as well make the store bigger. Wal-Mart’s superstore manager said she hopes the new store will bring in shoppers from 40 miles away. If that happens, some Wal-Marts in other nearby communities will lose out. The Mayor of Donaldsonville said he hopes the new supercenter will be “the beginning of a lot of economic development and prosperity.” But the 180 jobs that the news story said would be “created” at Wal-Mart will largely come from existing businesses. Donaldsonville will learn the hard way that they were better off when this land was “nothing but cane fields.”