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2009-05-23
Cherokee, N.C. Native Americans Vote To Build Store For Wal-Mart

Native American groups are often interested in Wal-Mart projects, because these groups have more control over land use on their Reservation, and can approve projects absent many of the local controls that usually cause problems for developers. The Citizen-Times newspaper reports this week that the Indian Reservation in Cherokee, North Carolina is promoting a Wal-Mart supercenter. Cherokee is located in western North Carolina on the Oconaluftee River and the Qualla Reservation, near Highway 19. Tribal leaders are looking to fill their coffers with sales tax, but local merchants are saying the project will hurt their sales. The Eastern Band, which is a federally-recognized tribal nation, will build the store and lease it to Wal-Mart. The Eastern Band promotes itself as a tourist attraction. "The landscape of Cherokee presents lots of options for spending time outdoors," the Band writes on its website. "Fish for trout, swim at Islands Park, bring your softball league to play at the new John Crowe Recreation Complex or spend your time hiking, biking, tubing, kayaking, camping and bird watching." The Reservation is located at the entrance to both the Great Smoky National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway. "Cherokee is nestled in just the right spot," the Eastern Band says, and Wal-Mart apparently agrees. The Eastern Band wants to give all those eco-tourists some place to shop for cheap, Chinese imports. Joining the tomahawks, blowguns and peace pipes that the Eastern Band currently promotes to visitors, will be a big box superstore. According to the Citizen-Times, the Eastern Band Tribal Council has approved a lease agreement to bring Wal-Mart to Cherokee. Principal Chief Michell Hicks told the newspaper that the Council's voted was 9-3. The Eastern Band says the new store will "create" 200 jobs, and add $5 million to the tribe's sales tax receipts. "I'm absolutely 100 percent in favor," Chief Hicks said. "We need a box retailer to prove our market so we can do further recruitment of other retailers." The tribe has apparently been working on this plan for nearly two years. Swain County has a population of less than 13,000 people, and ranks 89th out of 100 counties in North Carolina for population size. Local retailers in the area have warned that Cherokee doesn't have the consumer base to support a Wal-Mart supercenter and other merchants. "It will have a devastating effect on the local merchants," said Mike Butrum, owner of a home furnishings and gift store in Cherokee. "I think it will take business certainly from a store like mine. Those stores that sell commodity products, it will certainly hurt them." But Chief Hicks shrugs off the concerns of local businesses. "We don't have the mom-and-pop shops," he told the newspaper. "Most of our market is tourist-related. I don't see it having the same effect as on other towns."

What you can do: The Wal-Mart superstore is slated to be located on land owned by the town of Cherokee on Route 19, near the downtown area. Chief Hicks hopes the construction of the store will begin in late 2010. The store will be around 150,000 s.f., which is almost the size of three football fields. The tribe will lease the store to Wal-Mart. The tribe says the store's rent and sales taxes will cover the construction costs. The town of Cherokee's economic development director said the Wal-Mart will be part of a 40-acre "mega-retail development" on the site, which will have access from U.S. 19. The tribe is now talking to other retailers they hope to attract, now that they have signed on Wal-Mart. There is already a Wal-Mart superstore ten miles to the southeast from this site in Sylva, North Carolina, and another supercenter 18 miles to the east in Waynesville, North Carolina. Shoppers from Asheville who want Chinese imports would have to drive past the Waynesville Wal-Mart to get to the Cherokee Wal-Mart. This project is clearly designed to accomodate tourists coming to Cherokee, yet the project itself is designed as a typical suburban, land-consumptive, car-dependent superstore. It is not being built for the local residents, and many of its sales will come from existing merchants. The Cherokee, North Carolina Chamber of Commerce will lose some of its members, as small merchants like Mike Butrum go under. There are a number of grocery stores in the area, from the chain Food Lion to Save-A-Lot and Ingles Markets. Ingles is a family-owned chain of 200 stores. Its founder, Robert Ingle, "saw an opportunity to invest in smaller towns and rural communities throughout North and South Carolina that were being underserved by large grocery chains," according to the store's website. "It was a strategy that proved so successful that expansion into similar communities in Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama and Virginia soon followed. Ingles now operates approximately 200 stores in six south-eastern states." Ironically, the chain founded by Sam Walton will do more destruction to Ingles than the grocery chains of Winn-Dixie, A&P and Colonial ever did. Readers are urged to call the Eastern Band's toll free number after business hours at 800-438-1601 and leave the following message for Chief Hicks: "Dear Chief Hicks, Imagine my disappointment in coming to the land of Blue Smoke to find a huge, asphalt and concrete Wal-Mart superstore. Are you trying to show that the Cherokee can be as environmentally destructive as the 'paleface' developers? You are a CPA, you understand numbers. Cherokee and Swain County don't have the population base to support another superstore. You have to rely on tourists coming to Cherokee -- but it is those same tourists who support the existing merchants now. Area grocery stores, like Food Lion and Ingles, certainly will lose sales, and some smaller companies will go out of business. This is not economic development. This is the Eastern Band taking care of itself, to the detriment of everyone else around it. Your area is already saturated with two nearby Wal-Mart superstores. And when Wal-Mart pulls out -- as they inevitably will -- the Eastern Band will be stuck with an empty 150,000 s.f. superstore with no one to rent to. This big box will be remembered as the biggest mistake the Eastern Band ever made. It's not too late to scale this project back, and make it fit more into the character and culture of Cherokee."











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

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