The beautiful Finger Lakes region of upstate New York is beginning to look more like the Finger-Mart region, as Wal-Mart proposes superstores every few miles. Here’s a report filed with Sprawl-Busters this week from a frustrated resident: “There are four existing Wal-Marts along the Route 5&20 corridor in the Finger Lakes Region of Upstate New York, all about half an hour from each other. Three Super Wal-Marts are slated to be built next to three of them: in the small towns of Geneva, Waterloo and Canandaigua. The existing Wal-Mart are supposed to become Sam’s Clubs. These are small towns of 15,000 or less with failing economies and struggling independent businesses. I am trying to encourage residents in the area to fight the town council’s decision and spread the word about how damaging this will be to this beautiful region, which has little sprawl.” Wal-Mart announced in late April that they plan to convert their Geneva store, which the Finger Lakes Times called their “local store” on Routes 5&20 into a supercenter. The newspaper said “Town of Geneva officials have been working with” an engineering firm “for the past two months to develop the expansion project.” To expand the Geneva store, Wal-Mart will buy out the Harvest Hill garden center next door, which has been operating there for 34 years, and use its 7 acres to more than double the size of the existing Wal-Mart from 101,000 s.f. to 210,657 s.f. The Wal-Mart will abut a mobile home park when it expands the original store, which is 15 years old. Wal-Mart has to get the land rezoned form residential to business. The bigger store is needed, Wal-Mart said, “to provide greater convenience and choice to our customers in Geneva.” The town’s Supervisor claimed that a bigger Wal-Mart would increase the town’s sales base and “draw many, many people from the surrounding area to the store.” When the Geneva Wal-Mart was announced, it caught officials in nearby Seneca Falls, New York by surprise. “We were hearing that the supercenter was being built in Seneca Falls, but this is a new wrinkle in the whole planning process,” the Supervisor in Seneca Falls told the Times. The rezoning request in Geneva will come before the Town Board on May 9th, followed by a final vote in June. Once the land is rezoned, a site plan review process would take place during the summer. Shortly after the Geneva notice, Wal-Mart said it would build a new supercenter in Seneca Falls, New York also. “We certainly believe that both stores will be very successful,” a Wal-Mart spokesman said. “These stores do not preclude each other.” The Seneca Falls supercenter would be 187,570 s.f. Both locations are part of a broad effort to expand all Wal-Mart stores into supercenters. The Seneca Falls superstore has been on hold while the New York state Department of Transportation reviewed the retailer’s request to have an additional traffic light on Route 414. It appears that Wal-Mart expects taxpayers to pay for that traffic light. According to Wal-Mart, the Geneva Falls supercenter will be roughly 12 miles from the Seneca Falls supercenter. A Wal-Mart discount store in Waterloo, New York is less than three miles from Seneca Falls.
Sam Walton was proud of his saturation strategy, and was very clear about the goal: “We became our own competition.” When the town supervisor boasts that a bigger Wal-Mart will pull in more customers to Geneva Falls, he is admitting that his town is just transferring sales from one town to another. This is not economic development. Wal-Mart is also expanding its 129,000 s.f. existing store in Hornell, New York by purchasing 17 acres from the town’s Hornell Industrial Development Agency, which is not creating industrial jobs, but more low-wage retail. The manager of the Wal-Mart discount store in Hornell said he had no knowledge of the expansion. “At my end I have not heard that,” he said. “That goes out of the real estate department. They don’t trickle it down to me, not at this point. If they get something a little further along they might.” Last December, the Wegman’s grocery store agreed to lift a “non-compete” clause that controlled the shopping center where Wegman’s and Wal-Mart were located in Hornell. According to this provision, Wal-Mart was limited in what kind of food items it could sell. But when Wegman’s lifted the clause, Wal-Mart was free to carry a full-line of groceries, and compete with Wegman’s. The Hornell Wal-Mart discount store averages arounjd $348 per square foot, which is significantly below what a supercenter could produce. Residents in many of these towns could raise serious objections to these store expansions, especially in cases like Geneva, where the land is not zoned correctly, and will impact nearby residents.