Albany, GA. Wal-Mart Opens One Store, Shuts Down Another
Wal-Mart's growth policy is a zero sum game. Open one Wal-Mart, and shut down another. That's the Wal-Mart way, and no state knows that better than Georgia.
Wal-Mart currently has 9 empty building for sale in Georgia, including 2 distribution centers that combined equal 730,000 s.f. of dead space.
In 1996, Georgia had 76 Wal-Mart discount stores, and only 6 supercenters. By 2007, there were only 12 discount stores left, and 114 superstores. The existing discount stores had either been expanded -- or simply shut down and turned into what Wal-Mart euphemistically calls "dark stores."
This week the giant retailer announced that its store #843 in Camilla, Georgia, would close as soon as a second Wal-Mart superstore opens 24 miles to the north in the eastern side of Albany, Georgia.
On February 9, 2009, Sprawl-Busters reported that Wal-Mart was hesitating to build a second superstore in the city of Albany -- even though public officials were throwing the company a million dollars in welfare. Wal-Mart had postponed the proposed store, but Albany already has a superstore just minutes away.
The city of Albany is known as the "Good Life City." According to Mayor Willie Adams, Albany is the region's economic, healthcare, military and recreational hub. The city is perhaps most famous for the floodwaters that ravaged it in 1994. The city proudly says it overcame the flood because "city government responded with a national award-winning recovery program. Indeed, our bread-and-butter is our local government, which is a Georgia Municipal Association-designated "City of Ethics."
Despite the 'good life' in Albany, people are voting with their feet. The city has lost 3% of its population over the past two decades, and today its population stands at roughly 76,000.
Big box retailers have also come to Albany looking for the 'good life.' One of those companies, Wal-Mart, maintains superstore #588 on Ledo Road in Albany. Times are so tough in Albany, that even a Wal-Mart looks like a job-producer to local officials.
It was with great disappointment that city leaders learned in February of 2009 that Wal-Mart's plans for a second superstore on the east side of Albany was being pushed back a year.
WALB TV called the postponement "another blow" to Dougherty County's economy. The bad news was imparted in a joint phone call to city and county officials, who were told the new store is now expected to open at the earliest in 2011. The reaction from local officials was predictable. "It certainly will improve the area, it will certainly be an economic boom to the city of Albany," Ward 1 Commissioner Jon Howard told the WALB. "I guess the bad part about it is those 300+ jobs could certainly benefit the Dougherty County and Albany economy."
Chairman of the county Commissioners, Jeff Sinyard, assured residents that Wal-Mart was not walking out on the city. "Obviously we were disappointed to hear that it was being postponed one year, at the same time, we were very happy that it had not been taken off their list. It's incredibly important to East Albany and Dougherty County to have those jobs and to have that kind of growth, particularly in an area that really deserves it, needs it."
City and county officials had worked hard to give Wal-Mart everything it wanted -- including a lavish bail out of $800,000 in taxpayer subsidies for road improvements at the superstore site. The developer of the project gets that welfare once the store is built and open. But even this special deal couldn't keep the superstore project on track.
This week, 15 months after Wal-Mart announced the hold on its plans, ground clearing has started for the second Wal-Mart superstore on the east side of Albany, just minutes from the first superstore. The Albany Herald newspaper said this was "good news for Dougherty County," but "not so good for Camilla and Mitchell County."
Last week Wal-Mart officials finally announced, after months of speculation, that they would close down the Camilla Wal-Mart discount store, forcing residents to drive 24 miles north to the Albany superstores. The Camilla store will close when the second Albany superstore opens.
The Albany Herald says the new superstore "will pump new life into the retail community of East Albany," and developers hinted that "several smaller retailers" would come to the city to "take advantage of the crowds." The newspaper then added: "It wouldn't be odd to anticipate a couple of food franchises to follow."
This, of course, will not happen -- unless the newspaper is referring to fast food restaurants. But the second Wal-Mart in the Albany trade area is not really generating much more than a shift in market share from one Wal-Mart in the city to the other one. As the Herald noted, "you would expect the East Albany store would siphon off some shopping from the Wal-Mart on Ledo Road in Lee County."
What you can do: The city of Albany, Georgia was in the national news last year because of Wal-Mart -- but it had nothing to do with a second superstore being put on hold.
The city, which has been battling crime for years, had bad news headlines from the parking lot of their existing Wal-Mart superstore. According to the Associated Press, a 58 year old woman was found dead in a car parked at the Albany Wal-Mart. The Georgia Bureau of Investigations identified the woman as Joyce Hutchinson. A Wal-Mart shopper found the body in the back seat of a car in the parking lot. Police say that the woman appeared to be living out of her car. An autopsy has been performed on the body at a GBI crime lab in Decatur, Georgia.
There were no obvious signs of trauma or sexual assault, but the body was found nude from the waist down. This Wal-Mart incident put the 'Good Life' city into the news in a less than desirable light.
Readers are urged to send the following comment to Albany Mayor Willie Adams, at: firstname.lastname@example.org: "Dear Mayor Adams, I know you must be excited that Wal-Mart is finally starting to build a second supercenter in your city. It's hard to see why the city would settle for more low-wage, low benefit jobs -- especially when these 'new' jobs will basically replace existing jobs at other merchants in the city, most notably your grocery stores, like Winn-Dixie, Kroger, Save-A-Lot -- and of course -- your existing Wal-Mart superstore.
What do you imagine will happen if a major grocery store, like another Wal-Mart supercenter, opens up in a community that is losing consumers? Your population has shrunk -- 3% in the past two decades. You have added one superstore since then, and now the same company wants to open a second store. You can predict the outcome -- yet the county and city are actually subsidizing the developer with a huge gift from taxpayers of $800,000 in corporate welfare.
If this Wal-Mart project cannot stand on its own feet financially, let it fail. It's not fair to existing merchants to shovel cash to Wal-Mart's developer, while existing merchants get no breaks at all.
Not only will the new superstore put local grocery stores out of business -- it will cannibalize existing sales at the one Wal-Mart superstore you already have. According to a study produced in 2003 by the consulting firm Retail Forward, "for every Wal-Mart supercenter that opens in the next five years, two supermarkets will close their doors." Tell that to your area merchants who are struggling to survive in this recession.
Albany is destroying its existing job base by throwing tax dollars at rich corporations that are already putting the smaller merchants out of business. Although jobs and taxes will not increase, there are two things that will rise: traffic and crime.
One would think that with the awful incident you had at the Wal-Mart parking lot in Albany last year, that residents would have had enough of Wal-Marts. Now you see the real consequences of building another Wal-Mart: the consumers in Camilla will have to drive 24 miles north to shop at your store.
Does that make The Good Life City a good neighbor too? Mr. Mayor, your lack of regional land use planning with other towns has led to this 'open one, shut one' mentality at Wal-Mart, and local officials are letting them get away with it. You won't create any new jobs, and most of the sales will come from your existing Wal-Mart.
But in the process you have managed to alienate a bunch of people in Camilla."