On July 20, 2007, Sprawl-Busters reported that a crowd estimated at 100 people turned out in Garden Grove, California to whack Wal-Mart’s weeds. A hearing before the city’s Planning Commission was called in response to the retailer’s proposal to build a two-story supercenter on Chapman Avenue. The proposal called for Wal-Mart to tear down an empty Von’s department store. The project’s environmental impact report was issued last June, concluding that the 173,000 s.f. store would have little impact on the environment or existing merchants. That report was written by consultants hired by Wal-Mart. But the neighbors were not impressed. “We’re going to have trucks going up and down the street all times of day and night,” one neighbor told the Commission. This project has dragged on for a long time. As early as April of 2006, the United Food & Commercial Workers union staged a protest over this proposal right after Wal-Mart announced its plans. Now, a year and a half later, the retailer is leaving the Garden. According to a story in this week’s L.A. Times, Wal-Mart announced it is leaving Garden Grove without even digging in the soil — just days before the city’s planners were going to vote on the proposal. “It was cruel the way they did it,” Garden Grove Councilman Bruce Broadwater told the newspaper. “They built people up and got the community really excited. Then they dropped the bomb on us and ran off.” The strip mall which Wal-Mart was slated to anchor, reportedly spent $2 million fixing up the center, and brought on new tenants. “You hear all these stories about Wal-Mart coming to towns and shutting other businesses down because of the competition,” said a spokesman for the mall’s owners. “Well, it’s just the opposite here. Wal-Mart not coming is going to cause a lot of these businesses to shut down, and it’s going to be impossible to lease any of these open spaces now. Businesses want to be next an anchor that brings the traffic into the center. Without an anchor, they’re dead.” Wal-Mart told the media, “As we reviewed this proposed opportunity, it no longer made financial sense for the company. The construction costs didn’t pan out for this specific project. We were doing everything in our power to make this work, but we’re continuing to look for more opportunities in Orange County.”
Sometimes Wal-Mart pulls its plans without warning, and without reason. But in the case of Garden Grove, early last month the retailer said that its two story supercenter was going to be down-sized, but, then, by mid October, Wal-Mart said the smaller 105,000 s.f. store was not going to work financially either. The L.A. Times says that local officials “were skeptical” of Wal-Mart’s reasons for pulling out. “Displeased and disappointed is how Garden Grove feels about this unexpected decision from Wal-Mart, particularly because of the amount of time and effort already invested by both the city and the community,” Garden Grove’s City Manager said on the city’s website. “I can understand that original two-story mega-store might not have been financially feasible,” the city manger told the newspaper. “But I find it hard to believe a downsized store wouldn’t have been viable at that location.” One city councilman said he was not surprised at all by being dumped. “I was warned in advance that Wal-Mart is a huge corporation and they’ll be as likely to leave you high and dry as they will be your buddy,” he said. Another councilman connected this store pull-out with Wal-Mart’s national policy of reducing new store production. “I think Wal-Mart’s problems are bigger than Garden Grove,” the councilor told The Times. “Their stock has been flat for two years. Wall Street has been telling Wal-Mart to stop cannibalizing their existing U.S. stores by putting stores too close to each other. I don’t take it personally. I don’t think this has anything to do with Garden Grove.” Although city officials are mourning the loss of sales tax revenue, shoppers in Garden Grove can be comforted by the fact that there are 20 Wal-Mart discount stores within 20 miles of the city, including the Wal-Mart in Westminster 2 long miles away. Another city places its bet on Wal-Mart — and ends up a loser. Citizens who opposed the plan at public hearings are happy to see the big weed pulled from Garden Grove.