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2003-04-17
Palm Springs, CA. Wal-Mart Plans Supercenter, leaves "dark stores" behind

Wal-Mart changes its stores as casually as you and I change sunglasses. This week, Wal-Mart released plans for a 219,600 square foot superstore in Palm Springs, California that they hope to open by 2005, according to the Desert Sun newspaper, which repeated Wal-Mart's claims that the store would mean 500 jobs (that's gross, not net). To make the deception even worse, the newspaper said the Palm Springs supercenter would put Wal-Mart "in a position of creating 1,350 new jobs in the valley between two other SuperCenters and a Sam's Club already in various stages of planning and construction in Palm Desert and La Quinta." This shallow understanding of economic development is an embarrassment to the media, since the majority of these "new" jobs in all liklihood will come from existing merchants, especially grocery stores. A Wal-Mart spokesman told the newspaper: "There is a market there, and the large population will benefit from the low grocery prices that we will provide." Wal-Mart's plans for the 31 acre site was submitted to the Palm Springs planning officials on April 14th. Although the engineering plans do not name the company logo, the newpaper says the plan matches Wal-Mart's confirmation of plans for a Palm Springs store. The Desert Sun said local planners see the Wal-Mart supercenter as a way "to snag back some of its lost retail dollars to east valley cities over the years." California actually has a law that requires communities that "steal" malls from neighboring towns to share the resulting revenue with those towns, to prevent this kind of "cash box zoning", in which property tax limited towns battle each other for sales tax dominance. This kind of zoning promotes wasteful land use and saturation of malls and superstores. This seesaw battle for big box sales tax in this case involves neighboring Cathedral City, which has been notified by Wal-Mart that it will close its 129,111 s.f. store when another superstore opens in Palm Desert in 2004. "They've all but told us that they're closing down the store," Cathedral City manager told the Sun. Cathedral City is also worried that its Sam's Club will close, leaving the community with a loss of $600,000 in sales tax revenues. The city manager said that Wal-Mart is working with officials to try and fill their "dark store". "We're really disappointed that they've chosen to close it," the Cathedral City manager explained. As of February, 2003, Californis had 4 "dark stores", not counting Cathedral City, for a total of 452,421 s.f. of dead space. As more supercenters are opened, more discount stores will be emptied. Wal-Mart is already approved to build a supercenter in La Quinta, and in Palm Desert. Wal-Mart indicated in 2002 that the company planned to open no less than 40 supercenters in California over the next four years. The new Wal-Mart supercenter in Palm Springs is expected to have the most impact on nearby grocery stores. Albertson's, for example, is anticipated to lose market share when Wal-Mart opens. In typical fashion, an Albertson's spokesperson shrugged off the impact. "We don't go head to head in pricing against Wal-Mart," Albertson's told the newspaper. "Our pricing is based on competition in the marketplace, and they are part of that," she said.

What you can do: It's called the "empty box syndrome", and its coming to a city or town in California near you. In this case, it's Cathedral City that got the shaft. This kind of redundant development brings no added value to the community, but is largely a displacement activity. It is bizarre to think that a newspaper would repeat employment figures from a Wal-Mart press release on face value, without asking the question: "Are these really new jobs, or are we just talking about shifting market share?" And wasting another 31 acres of land for a development that serves no compelling public purpose whatsoever. For more information on "dark stores", search this database by that term.










 
 
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