Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Wal-Mart Goes Public to Protest Big Box Ordinance

Last week in Salinas, California, city council members passed a big box ordinance limiting big box stores from dedicating more than 5 percent of its floor space to non-taxable items like food. This ordinance would block a super Wal-Mart from moving into an empty Home Depot building.

In order to gain support for their point-of-view, Wal-Mart has confirmed that it has started a group to rally on their behalf in Salinas and in other cities where its stores have been blocked from opening. The group called "Consumers for Choice" has collected signatures for a petition in front of an existing Wal-Mart to put a referendum on the ballot and let residents to decide whether they want a super Wal-Mart. More here.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Georgia City Says No to Wal-Msrt

Wal-Mart announced late Thursday night that it would not build a 176,000-square-foot Supercenter at the corner of Peachtree Industrial Boulevard and Sugarloaf Parkway in Duluth.

While every step of the stores rollout was greeted by crowds of protesters wearing red T-shirts and carrying "Stop Wal-Mart" signs, there was no indication that pressure from neighborhood group Smart Growth Gwinnett had an effect on the decision.

Instead, company spokesman Glen Wilkins said in a press release, the decision was "related to Wal-Mart's announcement in June 2007 to more strategically prioritize development of Supercenters."

There are already two Wal-Mart stores within six miles of the proposed location, in Duluth and neighboring Suwanee.

"While this decision is certainly an appropriate one from a business standpoint," Wilkins said in the release, "it takes nothing away from the fact that Duluth is an excellent community and a great place to do business."

Smart Growth's Marline Santiago-Cook, who lives directly across Peachtree Industrial near the proposed Supercenter, said the group was not just excited about Wal-mart's decision, but the larger changes that resulted from their lengthy fight. As part of the larger citywide debate about managing development, the city of Duluth adopted a large-scale building ordinance last December that governs all facets of projects over 75,000 square feet.

"Not only did we achieve our goals of stopping this particular project," Santiago-Cook said, "but we got a bigger win by the implementation of the new ordinance, which will address any future project at this particular site as well as in the entire city of Duluth."

The two lawsuits filed against the city of Duluth by landowner Jack Bandy – who wanted to sell his 30-acre site to Wal-Mart – are still pending in Gwinnett Superior Court. The first, alleging that the city violated the open records act by approving a moratorium on large-scale buildings without first advertising it on an agenda, has a trial date set for Sept. 15.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Big Boxes and Internet Doom Local Store in Redding, CA

There are two major threats to Mom and Pop stores across America, The Big Box and the virtual big box found on the Internet. Here is another example.

Redding Christian Supply, which has sold books, music and other goods for some 30 years, suddenly closed this week.

"Music sales for us dropped 75 percent in the last three years," primarily because of Internet downloads, Yeager said.

"It was sudden, there's no doubt about that," he said of the decision to close. "We don't have any intention at this time" of reopening, he said.

The store's demise disappointed Bob Baratha of Shasta Lake, who shopped there two or three times a month.

"We need a store like this in this town," he said Thursday.

Jeannie McClure of Redding agreed. "I'm sorry to see that it's closed down and that they weren't able to make it," she said.

Yeager and others were removing tables and other items from the store Thursday. Piles of bookshelves lined the side of the building, along with a partially disassembled wooden "listening station" that customers used to preview CDs. With the demise in January of a small Christian supply store in the Shasta Outlets in Anderson, Redding Christian Supply was the only such store left in the Redding area. Now people will have to travel to Chico or Sacramento for such a large assortment of Bibles, reference books, Christian fiction, gospel music and other materials. In addition to books and music, Redding Christian Supply sold gifts, movies and greeting cards and offered free wireless Internet to its customers.

Walt and Ann Ewart bought the store in 1978 and moved it from Hilltop Drive to 2250 Churn Creek Road. The store went from a 2,400-square-foot shop with three employees to a two-story, 15,000-square-foot business with nearly 30 full- and part-time employees.

The Ewarts sold the store last year to Yeager and his wife, Kelly, a store manager and nearly 23-year employee. Ann Ewart, who still owns the building, could not be reached Thursday for comment. The store was a favorite source for church pastors and worship leaders to get their research books, music and other supplies. Jerry Mapes, the worship and missions pastor at Redding Christian Fellowship, said he liked shopping there better than using the Internet because he didn't have to wait for things he needed.

"It's going to be a big void here for a lot of people," he said of the closure.
But not all of the store's customers were Christians. Gary Ante of Redding, a musician, said the store was one of the few places he could find sheet music and music paper.
"It had nice people and things you couldn't find anywhere else," he said.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

OshKosh Thinking Outside Big Box

It's a shame that some of Oshkosh's most disposable buildings are among its largest, the "big-box" commercial and retail cocoons that become instantly garish when vacated, their hulking shells and parking lots left to decay.

On Sunday, The Northwestern presented a snapshot in time, spotlighting some of the most obvious vacant buildings and storefronts helping neither the city's tax base nor image.

The story showed that in just a handful of prominent properties encompassing more than 1 million square feet of Oshkosh space there resides $11.8 million in assessed tax value.

Many of these properties are along the prominent gateways and entry points to Oshkosh.

Most have no future resell or reuse in sight.

All are dormant.

It's a problem many mid-sized, Midwestern cities face.

The question becomes, "What can Oshkosh do about it?"

It's a tough one that must balance a private property owner's right to build, and build big, with a community's longer-lasting development and redevelopment interests. However, turning our backs to the black holes of development problem properties is irresponsible.

Perhaps the city's – and any city's, for that matter – Plan Commission can explore ways to encourage, if not require, some kind of adaptive reuse plan from the backers of new, large developments seeking permits and zoning approvals.

That's not likely to be a popular concept with developers.

When there is such up-front energy and effort to purchase and occupy a city's most prominent swaths and crossroads, isn't it right to ask developers for some up-front exit plans if massive space-consumers pull up stakes and move out? Consider it a kind of forward-looking, development insurance.

Is there also more the city's commercial development agency, the Oshkosh Area Economic Development Corporation, and its leaders can do to market the reuse and rebirth potential of vacant buildings?

Is there a better way to light a fire under and support entrepreneurs who may have an idea or two for otherwise inflexible spaces?

A University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh urban studies professor's comments suggest another question in Sunday's story: Is bigger necessarily better when it comes to commercial buildings?

Yes, there is definitely buzz and energy when a giant, big-box retailer agrees to build new in a community, promising spin-off development and instant tax base surge.

But communities are probably wise to temper the splash with that age-old saying about "lights burning twice as bright, burning half as long."

Final Thought: Some more forward-looking questions might help Oshkosh avoid another glut of large, vacant commercial properties currently hampering city development and image in prominent places.

Canadians Crabby About Banff Big Boxes

From Rocky Mountain Outlook

Banff may refuse to grant a business licence to Indigo Books in the face of a groundswell of public opposition to the corporate giant’s plan to set up shop in the national park townsite, putting its legal strength to the test once and for all.

The Town will also host a town hall meeting, tentatively scheduled for May 8 at 6:30 p.m. in the Banff High School gym, to get public feedback on chain stores that many argue are delivering a crippling blow to local mom and pop shops and ruining Banff’s character.

More than 300 people have signed a petition organized by the Banff Book & Art Den asking council to control the rapid invasion of multi-nationals and big box stores, including Indigo Books, which is the largest book retailer in Canada.

Town officials told a packed house at council’s meeting on Monday (April 23) that there was still room to intervene, as Indigo Books has not yet applied for a business licence.

Town manager Robert Earl said there are several documents, including the 1990 incorporation agreement with the provincial and federal governments, that he believes gives the municipality the legal grounds to knock back a business licence. More

Big Box Bill--Aloha Oy!!

From the Garden Island

More than 150 people filled council chambers and the first floor hallways of the historic County Building yesterday for a hearing on Kaua‘i County Council Bill 2203 — better known as the ‘big box bill.’While there appeared to be an equal number of Bill 2203 supporters and opponents showing their colors with purple and blue T-shirts, respectively, the overwhelming majority of speakers opposed the measure. Of the first 28, only six expressed support for the measure, identifying concerns about preserving Kaua‘i’s rural identity and conserving energy by shopping locally.

Opponents addressed the benefits of new big box stores and expansions to current stores such as increased competition and lower prices.

While most who spoke out against the bill also voiced support for a 66,000-square-foot addition to Wal-Mart, the two are not directly related.“(The bill) is not about a particular brand, it’s about the size,” Kaua‘i County Council member Jay Furfaro told one speaker — a message that was reiterated a few times throughout the meeting.

In fact, the legislation proposes to limit all retail or wholesale establishments to 75,000 square feet in resort, commercial and industrial districts through a zoning amendment.

The current Wal-Mart, Kmart and Costco already exceed that size limit.

A recurring theme at the meeting was the difficulty of making ends meet on Kaua‘i and the relief a lower-priced grocery store could provide.

Kim Handy, a resident who moved from Michigan a few years ago, said she recently paid $3 for a jar of mayonnaise at Wal-Mart, compared to $6 at another store. Handy noted how she used the savings to pay bus fare for one of her children, buy a beverage for her son and purchase a candy bar from a kid raising funds for his baseball team.“It makes a huge difference for the bottom line for the average person on the island,” she said tearfully.

Some supporters of the bill argued that its failure would result in the end of choice for consumers by ensuring only big box shopping options. But opponents pointed to the success of retailers that responded more than a decade ago to such stores as Kmart and Wal-Mart by catering to niche markets and offering specialty items.

Many also noted a drop in gas prices island-wide after Costco’s arrival and the continued success of Ace Hardware following Home Depot’s opening.

Derek Kawakami said he favors the bill because it is a step toward preserving “vast open spaces” for his generation and his children’s.“If we lose it today, it’s gone forever,” Kawakami said. He added that the bill doesn’t prohibit new competition, rather it sets parameters for growth.

But Suzanne Woodruff, a Kaua‘i resident since 1994, could not have disagreed more, calling the measure “unconstitutional.”

“I consider this bill a massive government intrusion into privacy,” she said. “This bill will provide economic and competitive advantage to the stores that are already here.”

Michael Akro, a part-time resident who spends half the year in San Francisco, defended his right to fair prices whether on the island or the Mainland. More

Friday, March 30, 2007

Remodeled Look

It's spring time and I thought the old Big Box Blows Blog needed a little sprucing up. I like to think that the "dots" motif will help you to connect the dots between what Big box development means to communities and how these developments can be remediated or reduced.

Yes Virginia, There Are Big Box Ordinances

From Lynchburg, VA

'Lynchburg’s Planning Commission on Wednesday recommended a change in city law that could keep Wal-Mart from building a new store on Old Forest Road without City Council approval.

The commission unanimously recommended giving City Council the power to approve or reject new retail stores larger than 50,000 square feet, often called “big box” stores.

City Council likely will consider whether to follow the commission’s recommendation and change the law in the next few months.

“I think it’s entirely appropriate for us to have more oversight of businesses of that size,” said Planning Commissioner Rick Barnes.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

"Tony" Orlando and A New Dawn

Big-box rules in Orange will be lax, foes say
David Damron
Orlando Sentinel Staff Writer

New big-box stores will cause major headaches for their Orange County neighbors because elected leaders caved in to industry legal threats and are poised today to pass weaker rules for the retail giants, a residents group said Monday.

A citizens task force crafted new rules for the mega-stores during the past year, from requiring 24-hour security guards and shopping-cart-retention systems to measures aimed at keeping the stores farther from homes, schools and one another.

But after industry lawyers warned that the proposed restrictions would face a court fight, most elected county leaders opted to forge a compromise ordinance. It emerged late last week but won little support from the Orange County Homeowners Association Alliance and others seeking restrictions on big-box retailers, such as Wal-Mart and Home Depot.

"I don't think it has any teeth in it at this point," said alliance President Douglas Kelly. "We are really disappointed with this new watered-down version."

A majority of county commissioners said it made little sense to pass an ordinance that would go straight to court.

Wal-Mart spokeswoman Michelle Azel said that even provisions in the latest ordinance dealing with landscaping, design and open space could cause financial hardships on the stores.

"We still have some concerns," she said, adding that perhaps further compromises can be worked out.

Hundreds of residents packed public meetings last year protesting a handful of proposed new giant retail outlets. These stores, which can be 200,000 square feet, bring noise, crime and traffic problems, critics say.

Those complaints drove county leaders to pass a moratorium on new big boxes and to create a task force to find ways to minimize impacts the stores have on neighbors.

The task force and a county review panel recommended 1,500-foot buffers between a new store and residential areas, and a 1,000-foot cushion from schools. They also suggested no big-box outlet build another store within 10 miles of one just like it. In the compromise ordinance, those provisions are gone, while only a 100-foot buffer between the store and residential areas remains.

Public could be shut out

The task force also recommended public hearings on all new stores, but in the compromise version, new stores could go into some commercial areas with no public input.

The citizens task force also sought aggressive security controls, seeking around-the-clock parking-lot guards at stores open 24 hours. The latest measure requires a guard on duty from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Industry representatives and county legal staffers argue the new proposed rules are among the most stringent in the state or country.

"This is a model ordinance," said Deputy Orange County Attorney Joel Prinsell. The industry "is definitely not thrilled."

Prinsell and other county officials said the store-buffering rules that residents want could be defended in court, but it's unknown legal turf.

"Some of these . . . requirements haven't been litigated yet," he said.

What rules would do

If passed, the latest compromise would mean these new restrictions:

Require shopping-cart-retention plans to keep carts on the lot. This would not apply to home-improvement stores, where strays are not as common.

Require 8-foot-high walls between the store and residences and require more open-space areas around the store.

Make storefronts look like multiple retail outlets, and force each one to install more windows on the street side.

Residents in a larger area around proposed new stores would be notified a new store is on the way.

But critics argue the latest proposals, while a modest improvement, are much weaker than what residents want.

"It went too far in terms of stripping out the meaningful parts of the ordinance and watered it down," said Greg Mellowe, a local resident and member of Wal-Mart Alliance for Reform Now, or WARN. "This is a whole quantum level below what we discussed at the big-box task force."

Orange County Commissioner Linda Stewart co-chaired the task force and said Monday that she's willing to compromise on certain measures -- such as a school buffer and a ban on similar stores in a 10-mile radius -- but not on others. Aside from those issues, Stewart said, she plans to push many of the original task-force recommendations.

"It will pass," Stewart said. "But I just don't want it to be so watered-down."

Why Big Boxes Are Bad, in a Nutshell

From Albuquerque, New Mexico

Why Big Boxes Are Bad, in a Nutshell
By Emily Esterson , 3-14-07

Last night, the Albuquerque Independent Business Alliance hosted Big Box Swindle author Stacy Mitchell at Page One Books. Mitchell has some chilling statistics about why big box stores are bad and how, little by little, they’ve eroded our economy and our environment. The AIBA turnout was pretty good and included a few heavy hitters like Fred Mondragon, of the city’s economic development office, and the state of New Mexico’s purchasing officer. There were a couple of journalists and a couple of bloggers, as well as some members of the general bookstore community who’d wandered in.
As I listened to Mitchell talk eloquently about all the ills of the big box economy, I was overwhelmed by that same sense of hopelessness I used to get at organic food conferences: Here we go again, preaching to the converted. In my neighborhood, where Wal-Mart came along and plopped a giant eyesore of a store in the middle of an alfalfa farm, we had just as many people rallying hard for the super-evil as rallying against it. In the audience at Page One there were no single Hispanic mothers or low income elderly (that I saw). There were no working class families with limited time and limited budgets. Instead there were the organic food buyers and the recyclers, the local bookstore visitors and “never go to Wal-Marters.” I had the same feeling at the Bioneers conference in San Francisco 15 years ago. It’s what I call the arrogance of the hippie (yuppie) class.
As educated, middle class citizens, we have plenty of choices about where we shop, and access to information about our choices. But I reluctantly learned a lesson when Wal-Mart came to the farm--not everyone is like us. Sure, my husband and I don’t like Wal-Mart, and neither do a handful of others neighbors on our street, but our neighbors across the street (of whom we are very fond), find it convenient. Others still shop at the “local” Albertsons, but are hoping (and I’ve heard them say it) that they’ll put an Applebees or an Olive Garden in the empty front lot at Wal-Mart. I can only cringe in terror, but then I have to remind myself that here, in my working class, largely Hispanic neighborhood, I am not living among the converted and there are a lot more of “them"--those that eat in chain restaurants and shop at super stores--than there are of me (organic food eating, local shopping, aging hippie).
So here’s the larger, more irritating question: All the evangelists behind the shop local (of which I am definitely one) movement have to figure out a way to move beyond the comfortable confines of Page One and the Co-op and preach their lesson coherently to the unconverted. That’s always been the problem and remains so; organizing a big-box backlash in Albuquerque’s Nob Hill and downtown Santa Fe is one thing; promoting it in the Southeast Heights, the West Mesa or in the South Valley an entirely different, difficult, and more effective, movement. Had we counted the number of collective trips to Wal-Mart in last nights audience, it would have been pretty low. Had we counted them at South Valley Baptist on a Sunday morning, pretty darn high.
A perfect storm would have to take place: In poorer neighborhoods there would have to be other options for shopping--note that in less economically prosperous neighborhoods there are fewer mid-sized supermarkets, no electronics stores and very few other services. There would have to be easily accessible ways to get there--while you and might enjoy strolling along Nob Hill and stopping in at the co-op, we’re not coming off a 12 hour shift and toting three kids. They would have to be culturally comfortable to all kinds of people. The reason chain restaurants do so well is that they are blandly predictable.
In these neighborhoods, the argument cannot be esoteric or about trickle-down economics, or about downstream impacts on the environment. If you’re struggling to put food on the table, global warming and the size of your own carbon footprint is not a top of mind issue. Every penny has to be justified, so its not enough to say “shop local, pay a little more, but support your neighbor.” It has to hit the shopper directly. “It is cheaper and easier to shop here and that’s why we do it.” That’s the only argument that works in poorer areas--and areas where big box stores are seen as a convenience rather than a spurge on the landscape.
So how does that happen? I have no earthly idea. I do know that the shop local movement is gaining ground; local farmers markets like ours now take food stamps, and Wal-Mart and its ilk are, relatively, struggling just a little bit. Perhaps (in my dreams) there will be a tremendous backlash and the big box stores will all turn into giant greenhouses and artist studios. For now, though, remind your neighbors standing in the down-the-aisle line at Wal-Mart that there’s a nice little locally owned Mexican grocery right around the corner where the meat is fresh and the produce local.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Any Town, Anywhere

From the East County News- Portland Oregon

The vacant parcel of land across from Madison High School on Northeast 82nd Avenue has never been a highlight of the neighborhood, but in recent months, the site has become the focal point for an increasingly common struggle going on between local communities and large-scale developers.

In 2006, the Smart Centres development company filed a formal application to rezone and develop 240,000 square feet of retail space at the site, up from the 60,000 square feet of commercial space for which the spot was originally zoned.

While the company’s relationship with Wal-Mart may have helped provoke a not-in-my-backyard response to SmartCentres among Madison South residents, according to Frank Walsh, co-chair of the group Save Madison South – organized to fight the proposed development – neighbors are most concerned about the rezoning effort.

“It’s an issue of plain neighborhood livability,” Walsh said. “We’re opposed to this [development] based on its proposed size.”