May 12, 2005

Julie Christensen in the NY Times

Bigboxreuse.com makes a big splash with an article in The New York Times:

Ms. Christensen, who has made the field of big-box reuse her academic and artistic specialty, has already logged some 20,000 miles during two previous trips over the past two years in pursuit of former Wal-Marts, Winn-Dixies and Kmarts. Along the way, she has become an expert in the ingenious and innovative ways that communities have reclaimed abandoned, architecturally uninspiring megastores.

The article is well worth your time.

Posted by Kevin at 7:29 AM

April 18, 2005

St. Albans

The Los Angeles Times has an article on Wal-Mart moving into St. Albans, Vermont. It seems a little different in that the article talks about where to put it and not if:

ST. ALBANS, Vt. � In her hometown here on the shore of Lake Champlain, Erin Raymond pays $18 for a package of 30 diapers for her 2-year-old son. If she drives to the nearest Wal-Mart, about 45 minutes south, she can buy 110 diapers for $27.

The 23-year-old convenience store clerk is one of many enthusiastic supporters of plans to bring the big-box retailer to Vermont's fourth-largest city, where shopping options are limited.

But the project has brought loud opposition from residents who fear that the giant retailer will drive small merchants out of business and suck the economic vitality out of their historic downtown � especially if it goes on the site the developer is proposing.

These foes are joined by preservationists who worry that Vermont will lose its rural charm if vast retail outlets enter the state. The fight over building a Wal-Mart in St. Albans, about 15 miles south of the Canadian border, gained momentum last year when the National Trust for Historic Preservation placed Vermont on its list of endangered sites. It was the first time an entire state had been given this status.

"This is sort of a wake-up call to Vermont," National Trust President Richard Moe said in Washington. "We're saying the character of their communities, and I think the character of the state as a whole, is at stake."

...

Preservationists say they are not trying to bar Wal-Mart Stores Inc. from expanding in the state. Rather, they say they want the company to open smaller stores that do not detract from Vermont's quaint image.

In St. Albans, the yearlong debate has centered less on whether to open a Wal-Mart than where to put it.

Posted by Bob at 2:31 AM

February 18, 2005

Sacramento Passes Superstore Ordinance

The Sacramento City Council passed an ordinance to regulate supercenters, but Wal-Mart plans to fight back:


Members of the Sacramento City Council said they anticipated a rough night Tuesday when they considered a controversial superstore ordinance. Still, no one was prepared for what they encountered when they walked into their chambers that evening.

Wal-Mart, leading the opposition against the proposal, had a court reporter stationed next to the dais to record every word. Each council member got a letter from the corporation's attorney, warning that the ordinance specifically targets Wal-Mart and "violates numerous federal, state and local laws, and is discriminatory and unfair."

Councilman Rob Fong, an attorney, said the corporation's message was clear.

"Those two things combined would indicate to me that one of the things coming down the pike is some sort of legal challenge," Fong said. "If that happens, it wouldn't surprise me."

The ordinance isn't as restrictive as some other cities have passed; it only covers stores larger than 90,000sf with 20% of floor space dedicated to nontaxable items rather than the typical 5%. Where Wal-Mart may have leg to stand up on is that it exempts membership and bulk stores. This seemingly benefits Costco while discrimanting against Wal-Mart.

The ordinance requires an economic impact study, but what the city is supposed to do with it isn't mentioned. As an example, I did find an economic impact report done for Bozeman, MT.

Perhaps a more important item in the story than the ordinance is this:


When Bakersfield approved two Supercenter sites within four miles of each other, a citizens group sued the city for underestimating what the group characterized as the urban decay, traffic and air problems that would result.

In that case, the 5th District Court of Appeal recently published a decision that could shape the way California municipalities prepare environmental reports, attorneys said.

"The court ruled that urban decay is an environmental impact as serious as air and water quality," said Steven Herum, the Stockton lawyer representing Bakersfield Citizens for Reasonable Growth.

Herum said he may file a similar lawsuit against the city of Lodi, which approved a Wal-Mart Supercenter on Wednesday.

Bakersfield City Attorney Virginia Gennaro said the court ruling sets a precedent in the 5th District, and city attorneys throughout the state should "give it some weight.

I think its safe to say that this opens up a can of worms. An unoccupied shopping center may be a form of urban decay, but to compare it to water or air quality is a stretch. It merely gives Wal-Mart's opponents another means to block a store. Nobody who can hire a lawyer should be allowed to go out of business because of Wal-Mart lest their building go unoccupied. I should mention that this a result of a specific statute on the books here in CA that requires an environmental impact report which is then used by whatever's proposed to sue. I don't think many things get built in this state without a lawsuit by either side(or at least a threat of one).

Update: The Sacaramento Bee ran a story this morning talking to some Wal_mart supporters and about the project where a store is proposed. It should be noted that Wal-Mart has won public votes in the region.

Posted by Bob at 10:13 PM

February 17, 2005

Steelyard Commons

Anita Campbell sends in a link to Callahan's Cleveland Diary, which provides a well assembled sequence of links showing how information was revealed during the planning of the Steelyard Commons. I won't include a snippet, because I don't want to spoil it, and you really need to read the whole thing (it won't take too long!).

Posted by Kevin at 3:15 PM

February 12, 2005

WM Exploring DC, Again

Michael Barbaro of The Washington Post informs us of Wal-Mart's latest move in the nation's capitol:

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has hired a former top aide to Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) as a consultant as it continues to explore the possibility of building a store in the District and attempts to navigate the city's zoning rules and neighborhood politics, the retailer said....

Kelvin J. Robinson, who was the mayor's chief of staff from 2001 to 2004, announced his resignation from the city government last summer...

Retail brokers said Wal-Mart's decision to hire Robinson, who worked closely with the mayor and the council, suggests company leaders remain serious about entering the market. Wal-Mart was close to signing a deal for a store in Brentwood before it determined the site was too small and abandoned the plan in August, according to sources close to those discussions.

It's unclear to me where or when "the retailer" told Mr. Barbaro about this...

Posted by Kevin at 2:28 PM

October 24, 2004

Parking at WM

Parking is usually considered difficult at most Wal-Marts. But consider the causes an consequences of far worse parking at most universities:

Picture an enterprise outside of academia, say Walmart, and imagine the customers being unable to find parking spots because a wildly disproportionate number of spots--the best spots, in fact--had been allotted to Walmart employees. Imagine, further, that huge numbers of these coveted spots were usually empty. Customers, if they could find parking spots at all, would park hundreds of yards from the Walmart entrance, and then they would pass dozens of empty parking spots--reserved for boxboys and checkers--as they trudged along to the entrance. Imagine, now, that they had paid for their parking in advance, only to find no available spots. Imagine also that if they happened to park in an empty and perpetually vacant red spot, they would be ticketed and charged an enormous fine equal to many times the daily cost of parking.

This, of course, is what a university does.

Posted by Kevin at 2:25 PM

August 12, 2004

A new twist in the Wal-Mart wars

(Here's a follow-up to Bob's earlier post). Featured in today's Christian Science Monitor (here):

USA > Economy
from the August 12, 2004 edition

In a nod to small retailers, Los Angeles is planning to make it much harder for 'big box' stores to expand.

By Daniel B. Wood | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

LOS ANGELES � Proponents say it may become a national model for handling skirmishes over so-called "big box" stores moving into economically fragile communities.

Opponents call it another thinly veiled attempt by pro-labor legislators to stand in the way of stores like Wal-Mart and Costco, fearing the stores' low wages and low costs.

Still others see the new ordinance, given initial approval this week by the Los Angeles City Council, as more evidence of a deadlock between America's largest employer, Wal-Mart, and its largest state, California, over the store's future and its policies.

The ordinance, voted on Wednesday, says simply that developers of superstores (those over 100,000 square feet) must do cost/benefit analyses to assess their economic impacts. Beyond the current practice of "conditional use" permits - which hinge on parking, land, and pollution impacts - applicants would have to assess a new list of controversial concerns, using approved but independent consultants.

[...]

Read the entire article, here.

Posted by Morgan at 8:57 AM

August 11, 2004

Wal-Mart Targets DC

WM is set to invade DC:

The store would be a conventional Wal-Mart, not one of its supercenters -- the 145,000- to 210,000-square-foot stores that include full grocery operations and thus compete directly with unionized supermarkets like Giant and Safeway....

A store in the District would be the latest step in Wal-Mart's expansion into America's cities, which had largely been passed over in the company's remarkable growth from a small chain in Arkansas to an international retail behemoth. Urban locations, with their expensive real estate, complicated zoning restrictions and often strong labor unions, have been one of Wal-Mart's last frontiers as it seeks an ever larger share of America's shopping dollars....

Until four years ago, the 23-acre Brentwood site was a derelict lot for impounded cars surrounded largely by townhouses and apartment buildings inhabited by middle-class and poor residents. City officials cited its development into a bustling retail center as one of their top achievements in the pursuit of retail in the District. Its Home Depot draws shoppers from all parts of the District and from nearby Prince George's County, according to city officials....

"The community does not want a Wal-Mart," said Dominic Moulden, executive director of Manna Community Development Corp., who called the company's business model "immoral." The outfit was part of the development team on the site but backed out earlier this summer when it learned discussions were underway with Wal-Mart.

Manna, a nonprofit group that works to develop long-depressed D.C. neighborhoods, is worried that a Wal-Mart would drag down wages in the neighborhood and drive smaller, locally owned stores out of business. "We think it's wiser to hold out for a better company," Moulden said.

For unions, the arrival of Wal-Mart in the District could have a symbolic as well as practical impact. The District-based United Food and Commercial Workers union, which represents grocery workers, has blamed Wal-Mart for the loss of thousands of member jobs.

"This is not an employer you want anywhere, particularly in the nation's capital," said C. James Lowthers, president of the union's Washington area chapter.

Posted by Kevin at 4:09 PM

July 19, 2004

Holding to the Forecast

It's back to school in July for Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. maintained its July sales forecast Monday, saying the vital back-to-school shopping season was off to a good start.

On a recorded message updating sales through July 16, the world's biggest retailer said it still expects a 2 percent to 4 percent gain in July sales at its U.S. stores open at least a year.

Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart listed food, paper goods and pet supplies among the best-selling categories last week, and said price inflation was largely responsible for boosting its sales tally in paper goods.

That is, the quantity of goods sold did not have to increase much for sales to increase, if prices were up a few percent over previous years.

Posted by Kevin at 9:20 AM

July 2, 2004

Bennington Cautiously Eyes Big Box Stores

This morning's edition(s) of Vermont's sister-newspapers Rutland Herald and Times Argus have reported that:

Bennington could set Vt. precedent for big stores

By PETER CRABTREE Herald Staff

BENNINGTON � Bennington could become the first Vermont town to require large retailers to prove they would not harm the community if they want a permit to do business.

The Planning Commission is about to ask the Select Board to approve a zoning bylaw that would require stores larger than 20,000 square feet to pay for an independent �community impact� study.

The proposed requirement, which was applauded at a public hearing Wednesday night, would be waived for downtown businesses.

�The rest of Vermont is watching very closely,� said Michael McDonough, a commission member. �I think you will see other communities follow our lead if we move in this direction.�

The Planning Commission also wants to make permanent an interim bylaw that caps big-box stores along the town�s commercial strip at 75,000 square feet.

[...]

Yet, that said, the fact remains:

The Select Board balked last year when the Planning Commission first suggested that retail stores larger than 38,000 square feet undergo economic impact studies.

The commission has responded by broadening the issues to be reviewed. The proposed bylaw calls for an evaluation of a project�s costs and benefits, including the effect on property tax revenues and the creation or loss of jobs in town.

Before a local permit could be issued, the Development Review Board would have to find that a retail project would not have an undue adverse impact on wages, housing costs or the town�s ability to provide services.

�The bottom line may end up to be the economic impact, but we�re also looking at infrastructure and schools,� said Barry Horst, chairman of the Planning Commission. �We want to see how it affects the entire community.�

Michael Bethel, a community activist, challenged the commission. Bethel said that while he was not an advocate of big box stores, he feared the proposal was too restrictive.

[...]

The last three paragraphs of the article explains that:

The commission expects to send the bylaw to the Select Board next week. The elected board, which has final approval, is likely to warn the bylaw for a public hearing later this summer, according to Monks.

The big box debate came alive last fall when an Albany, N.Y., developer sought but failed to win a zoning change to build a 170,000-square-foot store on the edge of downtown. McDonough urged citizens Wednesday to remain involved.

�The crime now would be for that public discussion not to continue to the final step,� he said.

For those seeking additional information concerning these matters, the Bennington Town Government page of the town's official Website includes pop up pages for both the Planning Commission and the Select Board as well as minutes of other government bodies of the town of course.

Also of interest is the Web page featuring Demographics of their town.

Posted by Morgan at 8:54 AM

June 11, 2004

WM in Windsor

Windsor residents are having a fine time (rr) hissing and screaming at a recent government information session:

The Windsor Chamber of Commerce invited Keith Morris, director of community affairs for Wal-Mart, to address residents' concerns about plans to build a 200,000-square-foot supercenter between 16th and 17th streets next to King Soopers.

Drawings of the building were also presented.

The meeting started out cordially, but it didn't take long for it to turn contentious as residents on both sides of the issue started standing up and asking questions out of turn, groaning at answers they didn't like and even shouting.

At one point, Windsor Against the Wall members waved their yellow signs as Morris tried to talk over the noise.

If anyone was undecided on which side of the issue they stood, their voices were drowned out by the vocal supporters on each side.

Nearly half an hour into the meeting, which started at 6:30 p.m., an audience member, fed up with the constant interruptions, yelled "Stop interrupting and keep to the agenda."

The agenda, at least what the chamber of commerce organizers had hoped for, was for written questions to be submitted to chamber president Myles Jensen, who would then read them and let the Wal-Mart representatives answer.

The questions varied from the quality of jobs Wal-Mart would bring to the community to the effect it would have on area businesses and how close the store would be to Grandview Elementary.

Morris said the Wal-Mart supercenter would bring in 350 jobs to Windsor with 70 percent of those full-time and with benefits.

Asked what the jobs would pay, Morris said Wal-Mart would survey the pay rates of other similar businesses and set their rates accordingly.

Morris said the average hourly Wal-Mart worker in the Denver area makes $11.28 an hour, and the Windsor store would likely be similar.

And activists want more decisions to be based on this method?
A few members of the crowd left early, shaking their heads at the rampant rudeness.

One written question asked Morris to explain why Wal-Mart was bullying its way into town.

"I don't see how you can say we're bullying our way into the community," Morris said. "We filed plans with the city, and now we're holding this open meeting."

The only clear result of the meeting was that both sides agreed more meetings would be necessary.

Posted by Kevin at 9:52 AM

Squamish WM

The Squamish Chief reports that the politically interested are going to battle out a zoning change to allow a new WM:

One of the most vocal local opponents of Wal-Mart is Darlene Pidgeon. Her main concern with Wal-Mart is the fact that it is not a Canadian store.

�Its another American corporation that is overtaking Canadian business and doesn�t sell Canadian products,� Pidgeon said. �It does not support Canadian business and is not local.�

Wal-Mart Canada claims the stores carry Canadian products.

Pidgeon won�t be swayed in her opinion that Wal-Mart will be bad for Squamish. �It is going to give more money to their base in Arkansas,� she said. �It is going to affect local businesses.�

Pidgeon complains that Wal-Mart is able to offer low prices because the products are made in places around the world where workers are exploited.

�The clothing is made in sweat shops in China, Mexico and South America,� she claims.

On the other side of the spectrum, Joan Forry says Wal-Mart can�t arrive soon enough.

�If you are a larger sized person they do have clothes that fit you at a price you can afford,� Forry said. �And, they have such a selection of kids clothes, shoes and runners. I want it here for Christmas.�

When Forry learned of the information meeting she said she will bring Wal-Mart supporters to the meeting.

Posted by Kevin at 9:47 AM

The National Trust Responds

In the Orlando Sentinel (rr), Richard Moe, President of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, responds to charges that his organization is demonizing WM:

We're not out to "demonize" Wal-Mart. Rather, we're simply reminding Vermonters that they have the right to decide what their communities are going to be like.

Although there are already four Wal-Mart stores in Vermont, three of them are relatively small and located in or near town centers. Wal-Mart is to be commended for doing the right thing with these stores -- but now the company is planning to saturate the state with seven new stores in outlying locations, each with a minimum of 150,000 square feet. These hulking megastores can drain the economic life out of traditional downtowns.

It's incredible that this man could use such language--"hulking megastores", "massive, sprawl-inducing","hidden costs are enormous."--and still think he's not demonizing WM.

It is by no means clear to me that some "Vermonters certainly have the right" to use the democratic machinery to prevent others from opening big-box stores. Mr. Moe never really defines what it means for a "community" to decide. What he really means, but almost nobody will say, is that such a "right" is often used by a group with special interests different than those of the general population. Such a "right" means that small business owners and preservation-first types--who have the most interest in keeping WM out-- will decide for the rest of the population who have a different mix of beliefs, goals, and preferences.

When a "community" decides on WM, shouldn't there be a quorum--a minimum number of votes--so that we know a large swath of the population is concerned? What happened in iInglewood was that 61% of the 29% of the eligible voters (18% of the population) used the government to determine for the other 82% that they shouldn't be able to work or shop in a local Wal-Mart. That is how the "community" of Inglewood decided that the WM initiative should not pass.

Contrary to Mr. Moe, I do not think that the political/constitutional foundation of Vermont gives "communities" any "rights" to determine anything. If a small number of elites and most impacted citizens want to use local zoning provisions to prevent the vast bulk of citizens from having a Wal-Mart, they may try as hard as they wish. That's the reality of democratic politics...

Posted by Kevin at 9:35 AM

June 9, 2004

Multiple Traffic Studies

The Davis County Clipper reports that three competing traffic studies--by WM, the government, and a private citizen--agree on one thing: people do not understand what traffic studies mean:

Snyder explained that one element of traffic studies that remains foreign to the public is the understanding of traffic service levels, given in letter grades A, B, C, D, E and F. (A means a signalized intersection wait of 10 seconds or less, and F means a wait of greater than 80 seconds.) The confusion comes when the public makes the incorrect connection between traffic letter grades and the familiar ones on school report cards.

�A D at an intersection is not the same as a D at school,� Snyder said.

�And," he added, �we tend to look at Layton�s traffic and say, �That�s horrible.� And it is. But Layton had exceeded its limits long before Wal-Mart.�

Posted by Kevin at 8:28 AM