How many big box stores does it take to destroy a community’s small town charm? Wal-Mart has 9 ‘dark stores’ in North Carolina, and if the company gets approval to build a superstore in the community of Lincolnton, North Carolina, the state will have a 10th dead store to add to its collection. Lincolnton has no need for a Wal-Mart supercenter. The community already has 10 Wal-Mart stores within a 20 mile radius, including superstores in Shelby, Charlotte, Belmont, Conover, Gastonia (2), Hickory, Denver, and Cherryville. The discount store on North General Boulevard in Lincolnton is the last discount store in the area that is not a superstore. The Wal-Mart superstore in Cherryville is roughly six miles southwest of Lincolnton. “We’ve been in contact with the developer probably in the neighborhood of six to eight months,” said one city zoning official. The proposed 182,000-s.f. store will be discussed by the planning board on May 19th. The City Council has scheduled a public hearing for June 4th. The city of Lincolnton had a population of roughly 10,700 people in 2007. The city’s planning board must give Wal-Mart a conditional use permit. The new site is located less than half a mile from the existing Wal-Mart. To put this deal together, Wal-Mart had to assemble 11 parcels totalling 24 acres. “There are several houses and lots in that subdivision that they’ll be purchasing,” the city’s zoning administrator told the Gaston Gazette. Once the project gets city approval, Wal-Mart will buy the homes and tear them down. All that will separate Wal-Mart from its residential neighbors is a 20 foot wide buffer 400 feet long. Wal-Mart will plant trees and shrubs along the buffer, but there is nothing hiding the lights, and the noise this enormous neighbor, and its 800 car parking lot, will make. The dead Wal-Mart this will create will leave an existing mall with a Belk’s and a Bi-Lo grocery store in a crippled situation. “It’s my understanding that they would just vacate the store when the new store is complete,” the city’s zoning administrator explained. To soften up the public for this wasteful development, Wal-mart is hosting a “community meeting” to trot out the dogs and ponies for the local folks. Wal-Mart likes to hold these show-and-tell meetings, give people cookies and coffee, and have a sign up sheet for people who are willing to come to city meetings to support the Wal-Mart superstore. But one question they will avoid is why they really need a larger store in the first place, and who’s going to tear down the old store?
The city of Lincolnton describes itself as “Lovable Lincolnton, on the quiet side of Charlotte.” The city says it has “maintained its small town charm while providing big city opportunities.” The city tells visitors it is “a delightful surprise to visitors,” with its “distinguished downtown” and its “atmosphere and way of life you thought had disappeared.” The city has the South Aspen Street Historic District, a distinctive area with more than 70 historic resources. There is also the West Main Street Historic District, with its stately Federal and Greek revival styles of architecture. Into this mix of history comes a dead Wal-Mart, and its successor, an even larger, out of scale Wal-Mart superstore. The city is trying to pander to small town charm, while advertising itself as a retail boomtown. Lincolnton advertises how much retail leakage it has going from the city — a sure invitation for more retail growth. But the city is located 20 miles from the nearest interstate highway. Readers are urged to email Lincolnton’s Mayor David M. Black at [email protected] with the following message: “Dear Mayor Black, Life on the quiet side of Charlotte is vanishing with every big mistake your little city makes. Allowing Wal-Mart to walk away from its existing discount store, to build a bigger store half a mile down the road is not only frivolous — its environmentally wasteful and economically of no value. Because you already have a Wal-Mart, the only ‘new’ aspect of the supercenter is another grocery store, which will draw most of its sales from the Food Lions, Bi-Lo and Harris Teeter stores in the area. This is not economic development, its just shifting market share. You advertise ‘a way of life you thought has disappeared.’ But you can’t buy small town quality of life on any Wal-Mart shelf, and once they take it from you, you can’t buy it back at any price. The way of life you cherish is disappearing, one superstore at a time. Wal-Mart doesn’t need to build a new superstore. The company has begun doing ‘in-box conversions’ in which they renovate a discount store into a superstore without adding any square footage. This superstore had to stitch together 11 parcels to come up with a piece of land large enough to hold a store three times the size of a football field, plus an 800 car parking lot. This project is far too big for Lovable Lincolnton. As Mayor, you have two choices: lead growth, or follow it. Leading growth means you make the Wal-Mart fit into Lincolnton, not the other way around. Leadership means proposing to the city council that you vote down the conditional use permit, and ask Wal-Mart to do an in-box conversion at its existing store, and leave Lincolnton with some ‘small town charm’ before its all gone. You will avoid having a ‘dark store’ on your hands, and a dead mall to go with it.”