This is how Wal-Mart often operates. They negotiate for months or years with a landowner under cover, and then, when the deal is ripe, suddenly throw off the covers, revealing themselves. This keeps their competition guessing, and prevents citizens from organizing early against them. On October 24, 2008, Wal-Mart came out of hiding in Longview, Washington. Wal-Mart announced that it planned to open a new store on the site of an old trailer park on California Way in Longview. This announcement caught many local residents by surprise, since the retailer already has a discount store on Ocean Beach Highway in Longview. This city of roughly 37,000 people is located on Route 5, approximately 47 miles north of Portland and 135 miles south of Seattle. The city describes itself as being “nestled between the banks of the Columbia and Cowlitz Rivers,” and is an hour and a half drive to the Pacific Ocean or to the Cascade mountains. On clear day, residents boast, you can see Mt. St. Helens from the city. But you can get to the nearest Wal-Mart much faster than to the ocean. Wal-Mart Real Estate Business Trust — which is the corporate subdivision of the company that buys stores to lower the company’s taxes — made their announcement after inking a deal to buy 22 acres from REO Property Management, on the site of the River City Mobile Home and RV Park. For residents who assumed that a city the size of Longview did not need a second Wal-Mart, the company has not yet announced plans to shut down their Longview discount store — but that is exactly what’s likely to happen. Residents of Longview simply need to drive north on Route 5 to the city of Mount Vernon, Washington, where Wal-Mart is selling their 127,294 s.f discount store, which was built only 10 years ago. The Mount Vernon store is being replaced by a new supercenter slated to open in the spring of 2009, according to Wal-Mart Realty. Wal-Mart told Longview residents this week that the new store will be a supercenter, and will hire 350 people — but the 250 company employees transferred from their Longview store on Ocean Beach Highway will take up most of those jobs. Wal-Mart told the Longview Daily News that the “old” discount store would remain open after the superstore just minutes away opens. Longview’s City Manager hopes the Wal-Mart deal will attract more retail development to the area. “It certainly is going to change the landscape down in that area,” he told the Daily News.
The landowner, who is from Seattle, says he started marketing the project to Wal-Mart three years ago. He displaced people living in the trailer park. Some of the trailer owners filed complaints, charging that they were illegally evicted from the land. The owner was a little on the defensive this week when word leaked out that another Wal-Mart was coming. “I mean, in today’s economy, the city of Longview should be happy,” he told the newspaper. Throughout this land deal, the city claims that it knew nothing about Wal-Mart as the buyer. “Wal-Mart has not talked directly to us at all,” the City Manager said. A “consultant” however has already filed completed environmental applications to build a big box store on the site, near a Home Depot. Wal-Mart now has to apply for building permits on the land, which is commercially zoned. Many Longview residents are no doubt catching their breath this week, trying to imagine the impact of a huge superstore on their existing commercial downtown. The City says it “recognizes that a vibrant downtown is critical to our uniqueness as a community.” Yet another big box store is about to be approved for the edge of the city. Longview’s downtown was built in the 1920s, and gives the city “a small-town atmosphere that is very appealing to residents and visitors alike.” The city’s Downtown Advisory Committee should be upset by the direction Lognview is heading in. Readers are urged to email Longview’s Mayor Kurt Anagnostou at: [email protected] with the following message: “Dear Mayor Anagnostou, It was an unwelcomed announcement recently that Wal-Mart wants to build a supercenter on California Way, not too far from their existing store on Ocean Beach Highway. If you go to Mount Vernon, Washington, you will see what lies in store for Longview. Wal-Mart is shutting down their 10 year old discount store in Mount Vernon — a huge 127,000 square foot store. Your city should quickly put together a developer’s agreement with Wal-Mart which requires them to put into escrow enough funds to cover the razing of their ‘old’ building if it remains on Ocean Beach Highway unused for more than 12 months. Yes, they tell you now that their first store will remain open, but look at their track record in California and across the nation. Hundreds of ‘ghost boxes’ remain empty today, because larger superstores replaced them. Do not rush into this supercenter project. It will continue to erode your efforts to have a unique, vibrant downtown, and most of the ‘new’ jobs will simply be old jobs moved over from Ocean Beach Highway. Longview will get an empty discount store, and in all likelihood, an empty grocery store or two. This is not added value for your economy, just a game of retail musical chairs. I urge you and the City Council to reject this store based on size and location. The ‘small town atmosphere’ you tout on your website is going to be destroyed, one big box store at a time. Until you place a cap on the size of retail stores, this divisive proposal is going to keep recurring. Longview is taking a very short view of its future by bulking up on big box chain stores.”