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2008-01-08
Rutland Charter, MI. Wal-Mart Leaves Another Michigan Town On The Altar

Anti-Wal-Mart residents in Michigan can't believe their good fortune. Wal-Mart's new store growth seems to have imploded in Michigan. Case of the week: Rutland. As of 2006, Rutland Charter Township, Michigan, had a total of only 4,148 people -- less than one-tenth the population needed to support a Wal-Mart supercenter. The township already has a Wal-Mart discount store, but the giant retailer wanted to get bigger. In November, 2007, it was like a big box free-for-all in tiny Rutland. The Meijer's discount store chain won approval to build a 150,000 s.f. supercenter, adding to the already-approved 176,000 s.f. Wal-Mart supercenter. The two retail superstore would have been located about one mile from each other, and township officials thought they had died and gone to heaven. But reality creeped in this week, when local officials got some very bad news from Wal-Mart. They aren't coming. Add one more town to the ballooning list of communities that are being left at the altar by Wal-Mart. Local residents in Rutland appeared to be rooting for Meijer's, and ready to celebrate Wal-Mart's departure. The chair of the township's Planning Commission told the Chronicle News Service, "We've not had one word of opposition to Meijer. Wal-Mart seems to have a little different philosophy." The Arkansas-based retailer told local officials that it planned to open in the spring of 2009, but then they became "noncommittal" about an opening date, and finally, the dropped the word that no store was coming to Rutland. Wal-Mart even told township leaders in November that it was going to sell the store it already has in Rutland to another retailer. But now everything's changed. Rutland Supervisor Jim Carr broke the news to the local media, because Wal-Mart would not comment to the press. Wal-Mart's senior manager of public affairs told the zoning administrator of the decision. Local officials said Wal-Mart indicated that Michigan's struggling economy was the reason Wal-Mart decided to pull the plug. Nothing was said about Wal-Mart's own struggling economics, and the retailer's decision six months ago to cutback on the number of new superstore openings, preferring to expand existing sites instead. Just four days ago, Sprawl-Busters reported that Wal-Mart was backing out of a planned supercenter in Pennfield, Michigan, and that 11 superstores in Michigan were all in limbo now. A Rutland official told the Grand Rapids Press, "They said they will refurbish and expand the store we have now. They don't have much room but they have some room in the garden center and parking lot they can use, between 10,000 and 20,000 square feet. It's better than nothing, and every little bit helps, especially now."

What you can do: It's not clear what township officials mean when they say "every little bit helps." Wal-Mart already has a store in Rutland, so the 'new' component is another grocery store as part of the supercenter. This will only shift jobs from existing grocers, and create no added value to the Rutland economy. Many local officials see a building going up and call it progress. They don't realize that Wal-Mart only represents old jobs behind new cash registers. Most of Wal-Mart's sales are captured from existing merchants. Wal-Mart was a controversial item in Rutland, but local officials still describe is as "every little bit helps." This is the sign of a desperate community with no vision of what development options they have. Readers are urged to call Rutland Supervisor Jim Carr at (269) 838-3336 with this message: "Many residents in Rutland are sighing with relief this week with the news that Wal-Mart has run out on Rutland. But don't feel disconsolate! They are dropping 10 other Michigan communities also. Pennfield recently lost its Wal-Mart project too. The company may have told you it was the Michigan economy that forced them out, but Wal-Mart has its own economic problems. The company has been building big stores too close to each other, and cannibalizing its own sales. Rutland still has its Wal-Mart and its plentiful source of cheap, Chinese products to sift through. Now's a great time to stop killing off your local merchants by passing a zoning size cap on retail stores. Every little bit helps."










 
 
"Norman has become the guru of the anti-Wal-Mart movement" ~ 60 Minutes

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