Wal-Mart suckers many communities into playing their game of retail musical chairs. The retailer opens up a new superstore, and closes down its existing discount store — sometimes within spitting distance of each other. That’s what happened in one small Kansas community that gained a Wal-Mart superstore, but got a dead store in return for almost three years. Today Wal-Mart has two empty stores for sale in Kansas. A 122,236 s.f. Wal-Mart in Leavenworth, and a 99,131 s.f. store in Coffeyville. The empty Wal-Mart in Leavenworth was built in 1993, and sits on a 15.6 acre lot. Wal-Mart wants $3.35 million for the building, which was abandoned before its 15th birthday. The Coffeyville Wal-Mart was built in 1992, and was abandoned at age 16. Wal-Mart wants $1.15 million for that store. One “dark store” that is no longer on the list is the empty Wal-Mart building at 2715 North Summit Street in Arkansas City, Kansas. That store has been on the Wal-Mart Realty list since at least the early winter of 2006, when the 53,945 s.f. store was listed as ‘available.’ According to the Winfield Daily Courier newspaper this week, the ‘old’ Wal-Mart in Arkansas City has finally been sold to a retailer called Orscheln Farm & Home, which has 152 stores in the Midwest. Orscheln is expected to occupy the vacated Wal-Mart building on Jan. 12th. The existing Orscheln store is located down the same street at 2147 North Summit — so now the city has an empty Orscheln store to worry about. The newspaper says that Orscheln bought the Wal-Mart building last April. A spokesman for the company said moving into the Wal-Mart store will allow the company to expand. “It triples our size, gives us a lot more room,” an Orscheln spokesman said. A new Wal-Mart superstore adds no value to the Arkansas City economy. All that has been gained in the switch from a discount store to a superstore is more traffic, more crime, and the likelihood that one or more of the existing grocery stores in this little town will shut its doors.
Wal-Mart supercenter #978 in Arkansas City is located at 2701 North Summit Street, slightly south of its old building on the same street. Arkansas City basically allowed Wal-Mart to move out of its existing store in March of 2006, just to move a stone’s throw south of its old location. The ‘old’ Wal-Mart sat empty for two years and 10 months, so the city is greatly relieved that someone — anyone — put this store back on the tax rolls. The ‘old’ Wal-Mart was almost the size of a football field, and there are very few merchants, except for chain store boxes, which will reuse even a ‘small’ box like the discarded Wal-Mart. The two other dead Wal-Mart stores in Kansas are likely to sit on the market for quite awhile. But this is the Wal-Mart business model: build stores, use them for less than 20 years, then move on. The retailer has roughly 200 dark stores on the market today, at least one third of them are larger than 100,000 s.f. and stay empty for at least three years. It is an unusually wasteful use of buildings, and underscores the “discardable box” concept in vogue at Wal-Mart. No company in the history of retailing has ever abandoned so many used stores just because they decided that a bigger model would pull in more profit. But more culpable in this environmental waste of hundreds of thousands of acres of land, are the communities like Arkansas City that allow it to happen in the first place. Readers are urged to email the Mayor of Arkansas City, Mell Kuhn, at [email protected] with the following message: “Dear Mayor Kuhn, I’m not sure why the beautiful community of Arkansas City needed a Wal-Mart supercenter, when there’s one 12 miles away in Winfield — because a city with roughly 12,000 people does not need a store the size of your supercenter. The city is very lucky that you finally had some business step forward to take over the ‘old’ Wal-Mart. That store has been sitting empty for nearly three years. I hope the experience you had with that dead store will convince you to pass a zoning ordinance that requires any retailer with a building larger than 50,000 s.f. to put up a demolition bond to pay for the restoration of the site to its pre-development state, if the store remains vacant for 12 consecutive months or longer. The Wal-Mart experience should serve as a warning that eventually Wal-Mart will ditch the superstore on North Summit too, and you’ll get stuck with the cost of demolishing that huge building. These stores have a life expectancy that runs between 10 and 20 years. Arkansas City had no good reason to let Wal-Mart expand just down the street from its abandoned store — but don’t get caught ’empty-stored’ again — because its already guaranteed that the next generation of Arkansas City residents are going to be staring at a huge, empty big box store at 2701 North Summit.”