Wal-Mart stores: now you see them, now you don’t. Ever wonder who makes those horrendous decisons to locate a Wal-Mart on residential land, or one mile from an existing Wal-Mart? The answer is a “Wal-Mart Nobody Knows.” According to Wal-Mart’s 1998 Annual Report, land use decisions are made by “a little know division of our company”, the Wal-Mart Realty Company. Most people think Wal-Mart owns the land and buildings they occupy, but the reality is that Wal-Mart leases many of its locations. Wal-Mart occupies more than 310 million in square feet of property. That makes Wal-Mart Realty Co. “the largest owner and manager of retail space in the country.” What the public also doesn’t understand, is that Wal-Mart relocates many of its stores–often before their lease expires. In 1997, Wal-Mart Realty leased or sold 10,000,000 square feet of “once-occupied stores”, a Wal-Mart euphemism for a shut-down store. It’s up to Wal-Mart Realty Company to “find uses for existing relocated stores after they are closed”. Tom Seay, former Wal-Mart executive vice president for real estate, has said “the fact that we relocate stores and we relocate a lot of them, is a well-known fact in the development community…” Seay admits that Wal-Mart has relocated “hundreds” of stores. Wal-Mart now admits that just in the past year alone they relocated 10 million square feet of space. So don’t get too attached to your local store–it may not be there all that long.
If your town is facing a Wal-Mart proposal, ask your municipal officials to press Wal-Mart to sign a performance bond with the town that the company will maintain a “continuous occupancy lease” that requires them to keep their store open during the full term of the lease, or pay community a specified level of damages for every month the store ends up empty.