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2009-03-07
Shenandoah, IA. Wal-Mart Buys Land In The Garden City

Wake Up, Little Suzie. The home of the Everly Brothers is about to be invaded by a Wal-Mart superstore. Shenandoah, Iowa is a small "city" with a smaller population than it had in 1990. The population of Shenandoah is just over 5,000 people, compared to 5,600 people in 1990. The community, which is roughly 60 miles southeast of Omaha, Nebraska, refers to itself as "the Garden City," and describes itself as "a place to shop for a day, visit for a week or live the rest of your life!" The city says it is a "progressive, bustling community full of gardens, entrepreneurs, industry, opportunity, and friendly people." It's also a community that has had a Wal-Mart discount store on South Fremont Street for years. The city doesn't talk about Wal-Mart in its pitch to visitors. Instead, Shenandoah likes to describe its "unique shops and restaurants" which have made the city "the retail hub of southwest Iowa." Shenandoah's lifestyle is based on a "heritage of garden industries." Wal-Mart would appear to be the biggest weed in the garden. Like many communities, Shenandoah is trying to market itself on its "relaxed lifestyle," hiding its sprawl, and national chain stores. The city boasts that it is "small enough to escape the hassles of the big cities," but it has also embraced huge big box stores that bring with them the hassle of major traffic and parking lot crime. This week, the Shenandoah Valley News announced that Wal-Mart had spent $401,000 to buy a parcel of land from Valley Farms, Inc. just off Highway 59 in Shenandoah, behind the Elks Lodge. Although the land transaction is completed, the Valley News says the store itself will not begin construction "anytime soon." That's because Wal-Mart will not take over the property until the summer of 2013 -- more than 4 years from now. A company spokesman said the building would start in the summer of 2012. The Valley News story ended with a warning note to the city: "No word about what will become of Wal-Mart's old location, which received a fresh coat of paint last week."

What you can do: You can dress up a Wal-Mart with a coat of new paint -- but Wal-Mart store # 1683 will soon join the list of stores being sold by the giant retailer. Wal-Mart currently has 30 buildings or properties for sale or lease in Iowa. Of those 30 properties, 6 of them have dead Wal-Mart stores on them -- what the media now calls 'ghost boxes.' A total of 318,286 s.f. of Wal-Mart stores are now empty in Iowa, not counting Shenandoah. Today, Wal-Mart has 47 superstores, and 11 discount stores in Iowa. Those 11 discount stores -- one of which is in Shenandoah -- will all be shut down or expanded into superstores. In the case of Shenandoah, Wal-Mart apparently cannot expand store #1683, so the city will end up with a dead store if they approve the superstore. The Valley News article did not even give a hint that anyone in the city would think to oppose a project that ends up providing little or no economic gain to Shenandoah. Most of the existing grocery stores in Shenandoah -- which includes 3 small IGA stores -- will feel the bite if Wal-Mart opens a superstore. But most of the jobs and sales will come from the closed Wal-Mart, so a bigger superstore brings no added value economically to Shenandoah. Readers are urged to email Shenandoah Mayor Richard Hunt at dicklucillehunt@heartland.net with the following message: "Dear Mayor Hunt, The Garden City is about to get an invasive species that will harm the very character of your little city. A Wal-Mart supercenter is like a giant weed in the middle of your garden. First, you will wind up with an empty building on South Freemont that could sit on the market for years. It will be the 7th dead Wal-Mart in Iowa today. If you want to see what a "dark store" looks like, drive to Sioux City where an 86,000 s.f. Wal-Mart sits by the roadside. Don't let that happen in your city. When the larger Wal-Mart closes the existing Wal-Mart, it will also take with it one or two existing grocery stores, most likely your small, locally-run IGA stores. Many Iowa communities have challenged the wisdom of these huge stores, and actually voted to keep them out. This is not a form of economic development, because as much as 80% of Wal-Mart's sales will come from existing merchants. The scale of this store is not compatible with the rest of the built environment in Shenandoah, and you have actually lost population since 1990 -- so you don't have the consumers needed to absorb a huge new influx of retail capacity. Instead, Wal-Mart will simply shut down its existing store, and cannibalize its competitors. In the end, the Wal-Mart supercenter will be seen as the end of competition in your small community. Wal-Mart likes to locate regional stores in very small communities, because they assume small cities don't have the economic sophistication, or land use controls to obstruct big box plans. But Shenandoah has a choice now: lead growth, or follow it. If you let companies like Wal-Mart dictate what you community will look like in the future, your whole pitch about "the Garden City" is going to become more like "the sprawl city." Take control now, or lose control. Your city could pass a 75,000 s.f. limit on the size of stores, and avoid most of the worst form of big box sprawl. Many communities across the country have enacted these limits to prevent the anonymous roadside attractions known as Wal-Marts. As one Mayor in Minnesota has said: "It's not how big you grow, its how you grow big that matters." Before Wal-Mart files its plans, submit a size cap on retail stores to the city council -- and a demolition bond for any store that sits empty for more than 12 consecutive months. If you wait until their plans are filed, the superstore behind the Elks will become the biggest land use mistake of your Administration."










 
 
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