What’s eating Gilbert, Arizona? It’s a swarm of Wal-Mart supercenters. But the cannibalization can only spread so far. Sprawl- Busters has run a string of stories over the past two months about Wal-Mart stores that have been put on hold. The latest comes from Gilbert, a community that already has 20 Wal-Mart stores within 13 miles, including a Wal-Mart supercenter on South Power Road in Gilbert, and another supercenter on South Market Street in East Gilbert. There are also supercenters in Mesa (7) and Chandler (2), and several other neighboring communities. In fact, Gilbert shoppers have 13 Wal-Mart supercenters within 13 miles. All this sprawl is a response to the meteoric population rise in the area. In 1990, Gilbert was a sleepy community with only 29,188 people. But by 2006, developers had turned Gilbert into a community with a 6.5 fold population explosion of 191,517 people. That’s a lot of people who need cheap Chinese underwear. Assuming 50,000 people to make a superstore viable, the area might sustain 4 Supercenters. Instead, they have 13 already. Wal-Mart continues to eat its own stores alive. But late this week, the Arizona Republic reported that Wal-Mart’s plans for a “small” supercenter in Gilbert have been put on the shelf — for now. The supercenter for Gilbert Town Square is not necessarily dead — but it’s time definitely has not come. “We do own that land but we don’t have a timeline for developing it yet,” a company spokeswoman told the Republic. “We’re still interested in developing the property and we’re still interested in serving that part of Gilbert.” Three years ago, Wal-Mart announced that it was going to build a “mini-Supercenter” along Warner Road. The superstore would have been around 100,000 s.f., would have a “a slightly smaller product selection than a regular Supercenter” according to the newpaper. Wal-Mart said it would watch the market and decide when to move forward. Some Gilbert residents hope that will be never.
Gilbert is feeling the impact of the business decision that Wal-Mart abruptly tossed out at its annual shareholders meeting in Fayetteville, Arkansas last June. The company announced that it was curtailing its new store growth, which meant that many superstore proposals would either be delayed, or scrubbed. The decision was described by Sprawl-Busters as a major victory for anti-Wal-Mart citizen’s groups around the country, who have made permitting of a Wal-Mart a time-consuming and costly proposition. Permit approval is no longer a foregone conclusion. When Wal-Mart announced that it was slowing down the pace of new store expansion, Wall Street analysts applauded, because the retailer had been eating into its own same store sales by locating superstores so tightly-packed together. Sam Walton had boasted of his “saturation” strategy, but the company carried that policy to the extreme. On the one-hand, Wal-Mart officials were saying they could easily build another 4,000 supercenters in America, but on the other hand, they were postponing the construction of 80 stores from 2007 into 2008. Shareholders at the annual meeting were holding in their laps an annual report that said nothing about curtailing new store growth, so the plan was obviously formulated after the Annual Report went to the printers. The policy switch showed that Wal-Mart had miscalculated its growth path, and that its sales performance required a more modest growth strategy. It was also a sign that local opposition had tied up many of the retailer’s proposals in red tape. This was sweet music to the ears of local citizen’s groups across the country. And it is the reason that people on Warner Road in Gilbert may never have to live with a Wal-Mart mini-supercenter. This pause in the action gives readers an excellent opportunity to call or email Gilbert Mayor Steve Berman at (480) 503-6860 (email: [email protected]) with the following message: “Mayor Berman, Now that Wal-Mart has put its Warner Road supercenter on hold, isn’t it a good time for Gilbert to put a cap on the size of retail buildings? You have no less than 13 supercenters within 13 miles of Gilbert. Surely there is more to ‘quality of life’ in Gilbert than big box shopping! You can put a stop to this environmentally wasteful over-building with one sentence, limiting the size of retail stores to 75,000 s.f. Do it now, while Wal-Mart has put Gilbert on hold.”