Wal-Mart’s plans to continue paving over paradise hit another snag this week. On October 23, 2007, Sprawl-Busters reported that in Hilo, Hawaii, County Council Chairman Peter Hoffmann announced that he planned to file a new bill soon that would ban all “big box” stores on the island. Thus far the county council has resisted such big box ordinances. This week, Wal-Mart made it public that it has put its plan to build a supercenter in Hilo on hold. As in several other cases in the last few weeks, Wal-Mart admitted that the freeze on Hilo was part of a corporate strategy to slow down growth in order to improve returns, productivity and sales. Wal-Mart’s Hilo plans triggered a tidal wave of legislative proposals to ban superstores in Hawaii County. “This decision does not affect our current stores,” Wal-Mart explained, “and we remain committed to providing the best opportunity for the people on the Big Island to get the most out of their hard earned dollar. We have a good relationship with the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL) and we are looking forward to continuing that relationship.” Wal-Mart already has eight discount stores in the state of Hawaii, including a discount store in Hilo and Kailua-Kona, but the Hilo supercenter would have been Wal-Mart’s first in the state. The Department of Hawaiian Home Lands was notified of Wal-Mart’s withdrawal late last week. So there will be no Big Box on the Big Island — for now.
This good news for Wal-Mart opponents in Hawaii County also means that if Council Chairman Hoffman proceeds now with his bill to ban superstores, any Wal-Mart proposal would be subject to the new ordinance. The additional store in Hilo would only add the grocery component, since Hilo already has a Wal-Mart discount store. A study by the group Retail Forward found that every Wal-Mart supercenter that opens causes two existing grocery stores to close. The new supercenter, therefore, could result in a negative net change in employment, and brings no added value to Hilo. From New Hamsphire to Hawaii, Wal-Mart’s roll-back of new stores has resulted in a number of sites, like Hilo, being withdrawn with little notice. Citizen success in killing many controversial supercenters has resulted in the implosion of stores like Hilo, where the saturation strategy would only have led to the closing of another Wal-Mart discount store.