It’s one short move for Wal-Mart, and one large mistake for Wareham, Massachusetts.
Wal-Mart today has 11 superstores in Massachusetts, and 36 discount stores. It’s goal is to convert the 36 discount stores into superstores. If the discount stores can’t be expanded, Wal-Mart shuts them down and builds a new store nearby.
That’s what’s happening in the community of Wareham, Massachusetts, which has ‘only’ 7 Wal-Mart stores within 19 miles of its borders, including two superstores in Plymouth (13 miles away) and Raynham (19 miles away). Wareham is saturated with Wal-Marts, but the retailer wants to enlarge its presence in this town of 21,150 people by shutting down one store and opening another.
Wal-Mart’s engineers have submitted a plan to town officials that plays retail hopscotch by shutting down the existing Wal-Mart discount store #2095 in East Wareham, and moving it a short distance to West Wareham.
This past week, the Wareham Zoning Board held a hearing on the proposed relocation and according to Wicked Local Mattapoisett “concern and excitement” was expressed at the hearing.
Bohler Engineering, which has fronted for Wal-Mart at several Wal-Mart projects in the Baystate, claimed that Wal-Mart wanted to be “sustainable” in the building itself, and planned to use “materials obtained locally, use walls made with recyclable materials and lower-wattage, longer-lasting LED lights in their signs.” But the larger issue of how it was “sustainable” to abandon a store nearby just to build a bigger one, was not discussed.
Traffic consultants from Vanasse & Associates said the peak hour traffic at the store’s entrance would be 980 car trips, which the newspaper called “a potentially steep number for the road to handle.” Apparently some members of the town’s Zoning Board were concerned about the level of new traffic that this project would kick up, and the number of elderly drivers in retirement communities near the site. The project itself was described as creating “parking lot wasteland look” according to Wicked Local.
Residents also took issue with building a store near a school zone, and the environmental impacts to nearby streams. “Our future depends on the ecosystem, not Wal-Mart,” one resident testified. “The most eco-friendly thing you could do is reuse the old building that you’ve already got.”
But Wal-Mart’s PR manager told the crowd his company needs a larger store because people want a “super” Wal-Mart. The current Wal-Mart discount store apparently cannot sell groceries because of a nearby Stop & Shop.
“I think it’s really important that we get people to stay here in town,” Wal-Mart’s spokesperson argued. “Plus, the new store would have the latest and greatest, and the East Wareham one would need these renovations sooner or later anyway.”
It’s not clear what Wal-Mart considers to be the ‘latest and greatest,’ but the retailer now has to go back and plan for its next foray in town. “With what we heard tonight, it’s back to the drawing board. Nothing is set in stone, and this is an involved process. So tonight was great,” the company official said.
But Wal-Mart will not make concessions easily. The fact is, the company could reformat its existing store. Such a process is called an “in-box conversion,” and the retailer has done it any number of times when local communities say no to superfluous superstores. Wal-Mart will only be sustainable and environmentally sensitive when it is pushed to the wall by local officials. This is what happened in Halifax, Massachusetts, where town officials refused to let the retailer expand by building a neew store.
The most environmentally responsible course in Wareham is to retrofit the existing store, rather than asphalting over a new site, and creating acres of additional sprawl. Many communities lack the vision and tenacity to tell these developers what they want, and instead let the developers take the lead and call the shots.
Readers are urged to email Wareham ZBA Chairman Ken Ferreira at [email protected] with the following message:
“Dear Chairman Ferreira, It takes a lot of nerve for a company like Wal-Mart to tell Wareham officials that shutting down its existing store on Cranberry Highway just to open a larger store nearby is “sustainable.”
This is environmentally wasteful and irresponsible, and the ZBA can tell Wal-Mart that Wareham hosts a large Wal-Mart store already, and the company should present the Board with an in-box conversion if the retailer wants so much to sell groceries.
Wareham gains nothing from the proposal now on the table: most of the jobs and sales will come from the Cranberry Highway site, and any new grocery sales added to Wal-Mart will be captured from existing grocery cash registers.
The only responsible course is to reject this plan, and send Wal-Mart back to Cranberry Highway. This is what Halifax, Massachsuetts did — and Wal-Mart ended up scrapping plans for a larger box and going back to its original Halifax store. If you check with your colleagues in Halifax, they will tell you the sustainable path they took.
Don’t let all the talk about environmental design fool you: this is a huge box store that adds no value at all to Wareham’s local economy.”