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2009-03-08
Old Bridge, NJ. Wal-Mart Says Superstores Serve Different Market Than Discount Stores.

Wal-Mart doesn't like to admit that a new superstore will cause an "old" discount store to shut down. They will often deny the obvious -- until they get approval to open the superstore. On January 15, 2009, Sprawl-Busters reported that residents in Old Bridge, New Jersey had taken to song to express their opposition to a 150,000 s.f. Wal-Mart supercenter. Old Bridge is located 36 miles from downtown Manhattan. The community has just over 66,000 people. It already has a Wal-Mart discount store on Route 9. In fact, there are 14 Wal-Marts within 20 miles of Old Bridge -- none of them superstores. Wal-Mart is working hard in New Jersey to either expand this "nest" of discount stores into supercenters, or shut them down and build new supercenters, leaving the old discount stores empty. The Old Bridge Planning Board is in the middle of taking testimony on a Wal-Mart supercenter project submitted by developer Greg Matzel. The proposed site is roughly a 7 minute drive from the existing Wal-Mart. One Planning board member was quoted by the Sayreville Suburban newspaper as saying, "I like the project, I just don't want it coming into our neighborhoods." The site Wal-Mart wants is a part of a 500 acre "Crossroads" redevelopment project that is the focal point of development in this township. Currently the Wal-Mart site is a 53 acre golf center, on land not owned by the township. So far, the project has drawn vocal criticism from local residents, and what the paper described as "union workers from around the state." At the mid-January Planning Board meeting, much of the discussion revolved around whether one or two entrances were needed into the site. "I don't want to turn it into a main drag, so to speak," the Planning Board Chairman said. "The existing Wal- Mart is one of the biggest parking lots in town." The Board is clearly concerned over the impact of the increased traffic volume the new store would bring, and complained that the developer should have done an analysis of traffic at the existing Wal-Mart to get a sense of what could happen at the proposed project. The township and this developer already have a confrontational history. In 2006, Matzel sued the township after they rejected his proposal to build 450 residential units. As part of a legal settlement, the township agreed to change the parcel's zoning to commercial, which allows a big box development. So out of this lawsuit, the developer settled for the possibility of a very lucrative sale to Wal-Mart. "I think the one thing [board members and residents] are forgetting is that this is a settlement between us and the township," Matzel said. "There are always going to be a handful of residents who are opposed to the project." The land in question is also riddled with wetlands, but the developer said he can destroy up to an acre of wetlands under New Jersey law. Local residents -- more than a handful -- protested the project by speaking and singing out against what they called the "Wal-Monster." They gathered outside of the town building where the hearing was taking place. "That's our message to Wal-Mart -- you're not welcome here," said a representative of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. One resident who lives near the site told the Suburban, "We have plenty of Wal-Marts. We do not need another." Outside the municipal building, the Solidarity Singers of the New Jersey Industrial Union Council sang songs about Wal-Mart's profiteering from foreign sweatshops, with lyrics about the retailer's anti union policies. But for Wal-Mart, the presence of protestors at their hearings is just the same old song. This week, My Central New Jersey news reports that the vote on this project is imminent. "We got everything done," the townships Planning Board Chairman said. "All the testimony and all the public input have been completed. We're waiting for the developer to come back with a revised drawing. If everything matches up, we should be ready for a vote next month." In addition to the Wal-Mart, the project has a retail building of 18,400 s.f. , 15,500 s.f. for two restaurants, and a 29,190 s.f. office building. The plan puts a weight limit on trucks to keep Wal-Mart's tractor trailers out of nearby neighborhoods. One regional manager for Wal-Mart told the Planning Board that the retailer's existing Wal-Mart discount store minutes away would be "temporarily closed." But the Wal-Mart spokesman then added that we was "not sure if the store would be reopened," according to My Central New Jersey. The Old Bridge Planning Board Chairman questioned Wal-Mart whether another store was really needed. The answer was bizarre: "Wal-Mart sees it as serving two different markets and this is a supercenter."

What you can do: Some members of the audience wanted to be very clear about their feelings on the superstore. They came to the meeting with signs which read: "No Wal-Mart" and "Stop Corporate Greed. Jobs with Justice." Councilman Richard Greene agreed with residents who complained about Wal-Mart's plan. "When the agreement was made between the township and this landowner, I voted against the zoning changes," Greene said. "I did that because I thought the agreement gave the developer too much flexibility in what he could build and I suspected at the time -- and I was right -- that it allowed a big box or super facility, which this is one. I voted against it because I just felt a project like this would have a mushroom effect and would eventually leave 18 in Old Bridge to look like 18 in East Brunswick and I thought that would be terrible." In an unusual display of union disharmony, a member of the Middlesex County Building and Trades Council supported the Wal-Mart, saying it would mean more jobs for the area -- especially short-term jobs in construction. In Janaury, Wal-Mart spokesman issued a written statement about the Old Bridge project which read, "I think it's important to note that more than 90% of American households will shop at a Wal-Mart this year. Customers across the country are overwhelmingly favorable of Wal-Mart, but there is a very vocal minority of people who have made it their business to criticize our company. With more than 130 million shoppers each and every week, it is our customers who 'vote' for us every day by spending their hard-earned dollars in our stores." The retailer's spokesman said Wal-Mart employees "have rejected union representation for years." The corporation is clearly worried that 2009 could be the year of passage for the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which President Barack Obama has pledged to pass this year. EFCA gives workers the option of gathering a majority of signature cards to unionize, as an alternative to a secret ballot. The spokesman said Wal-Mart opposes anything that would interfere with employees' right to a secret ballot. "We have always operated in a manner that makes third-party representation unnecessary. However, we do not make value judgments or criticize those who support labor organizations." But local residents told the newspaper "Wal-Mart is sucking the life out of those downtown areas. It's killing everybody. If the trend continues ... we'll have ghost towns." Other residents suggested that if this new store opens up, the 'old' Wal-Mart minutes away will close. Developer Matzel denied that would happen. "Our intent is to keep both sites open," the Wal-Mart PR spokesman said, but then he hedged his bets: "But [we] will continue to review and re-evaluate that option in the future. Grocery is a critical part of the merchandise offering that our customers want and expect at a Wal-Mart. It is an area where we are able to save our customers a lot of money by offering unbeatable prices." As far as the sensitive wetland areas on the site, Wal-Mart said environmental issues are a priority for the company, and pointed to its product packaging policies and energy efficiency as examples. But rather than address the environmental land use issues at the site, the spokesman said, "At Wal-Mart, we know that being an efficient and profitable business and being a good steward of the environment go hand in hand. As a result, we have established three goals for our company: To be supplied 100 percent by renewable energy, to create zero waste, and to sell products that sustain our resources and the environment." All of this has nothing to do with wetlands in Old Bridge. Readers are urged to email Ward 5 City Council Richard Greene at: clerk@oldbridge.com with the following message: "Dear Councilor Greene, Thank you for questioning the wisdom of putting a Wal-Mart superstore in Old Bridge. Your community has 14 Wal-Marts within 20 miles. Even someone addicted to Chinese imports does not need 14 Wal-Mart within an easy drive. The site on Route 18 that Wal-Mart wants in Old Bridge is just minutes from its existing store on Route 9. You may be aware that Wal-Mart has been systematically shutting down its discount stores to open up supercenters. Ten years ago in New Jersey, there were 16 discount stores, and no supercenters. Today, there are 45 discount stores, and only 1 supercenter. Outside of Alaska, Hawaii and Vermont, New Jersey has the fewest number of supercenters in the nation. While that's good, it means that Wal-Mart is going to be shutting down discount stores across the state over the next few years, or expanding them when its feasible. If you approve a supercenter on Route 18, you're going to have an empty discount store on Route 9 -- and these "dark stores" are not easy to fill. All that a new Wal-Mart will do is increase traffic in Old Bridge, increase crime, and shut down the 'old' store and one or two grocery stores too. This is not a form of economic development. Wal-Mart makes nothing. They just sell Chinese imports that end up in your landfills. I urge you to continue to speak out against this project -- as other New Jersey cities and towns have done -- and tell your Planning Board that you don't want Wal-Mart to cross Old Bridge when they come to it."










 
 
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