When Costco decided in 2007 to abandon its existing 123,000 s.f. store on South Mooney Boulevard in Visalia, California, Wal-Mart showed interest in the property — despite the fact that the Arkansas retailer already had an existing discount store in the city just minutes away.
This week, the Visalia Times-Delta confirmed that Wal-Mart has filed plans to remodel the ‘old’ Costco store, and the city has promised to get an answer back to Wal-Mart within two months. This is the main benefit for Wal-Mart: by taking over an existing site, they can fast-track the opening for a store, and minimize opposition, which has a history of activism in this city.
Costco has opened a 160,000 s.f. store on Packwood Creek in Visalia, leaving the South Mooney Mall with gaping holes. That mall has had vacancy problems for the past decade. A HomeBase store and a Circuit City both went out of business, leaving the Mooney mall struggling to survive. The departure of Costco left the mall in rough shape. “We in the city really want to fill up all those empty spaces,” one city official told the newspaper. Birds have come to roost in the empty buildings that symbolize the unstable retail marketplace.
Costco has its store listed at $7 million, but it is unlikely that Wal-Mart will spend that much to acquire the building. The larger mall around the building is owned by a partnership that includes Save Mart, a grocery chain that competes with Wal-Mart superstores. For that reason it is not surprising that Wal-Mart will not be opening up a superstore at the Mooney site, just a discount store without a full-line grocery.
The saturation of grocery stores has been a hot topic in Visalia for more than a year now. A coalition of six local grocery stores tried to get the city council to pass a moratorium on new grocery stores, to try to stop the addition of a proposed 300,000 s.f. addition to the existing 600,000 s.f. of grocery leased space. The Visalia city council rejected the moratorium idea in April of 2010, but litigation is still pending on the issue.
There are rumors that the Mooney mall has other suitors, including the Burlington Coat Factory and Dick’s Sporting Goods. But Wal-Mart is the first retailer to express firm interest in the empty space left by the chain store exodus.
Wal-Mart already has an existing store on Noble Avenue store in east Visalia, and is seeking to expand that store into a superstore. That plan has run into local opposition, and an environmental impact hearing is scheduled in the near future.
Reader are urged to email Visalia Mayor Bob Link at: [email protected] with the following message:
“Dear Mayor Link,
As the owner of a local clothing store, you understand the impact that big box stores like Wal-Mart have had on small merchants in your community and across the country. Your city is already awash in big box stores, and you have seen some of them come and go. The Costco move might have appeared like growth to you, but it really added no value to your local economy, just as adding another Wal-Mart only serves to fill an empty space — but it does not mean new jobs or revenue.
The fact is, new sales at Wal-Mart come largely from existing cash registers elsewhere in town, including the existing Wal-Mart. You like to brag about Visalia’s “picturesque communities and stunning landscapes against the backdrop of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.” But if you keep adding big boxes, the only ‘stunning landscape” in your city will be the blank box walls that overwhelm your built landscape.
It’s time to think outside of the box and develop projects that don’t simply destroy local jobs and businesses. A cap on the size of retail buildings would be a good place to start.”
When Costco decided in 2007 to abandon its existing 123,000 s.f. store on South Mooney Boulevard in Visalia, California, Wal-Mart showed interest in the property—despite the fact that the Arkansas retailer already had an existing discount store in the city just minutes away.