Woonsocket, RI. Wal-Mart's Open and Shut Down Case
Residents in North Smithfield, Rhode Island fought a proposed Wal-Mart supercenter for years, warning of the negative impacts another huge store would have on an already saturated Wal-Mart trade area. Now their warnings are proving correct, as Wal-Mart announcec this week its plan to shut down one of its own discount stores 5 miles away.
Wal-Mart discount store #2225 on Diamond Hill Road in Woonsocket is the closest store to the North Smithfield superstore site. Because it is just a discount store, and not a supercenter, Wal-Mart can pull in more revenue at the North Smithfield store, and so the Woonsocket store will go dark -- one of hundreds of stores that are being abandoned while still having years of useful life if any other retailer had owned it.
As always, Wal-Mart suggests that shutting down existing stores to build larger ones a few miles away is not only a sustainable growth policy -- but its what consumers want. "Our market research has told us that a relocation to a larger store in North Smithfield is the best move at this time on behalf our area customers," a Wal-Mart spokesman told the Woonsocket Patch. The retailer says the workers at the Woonsocket store will be offered jobs at the North Smithfield store, which will measure around 200,000 s.f. The Woonsocket store was built around 1984.
Another casualty of the North Smithfield project is therefore the city of Woonsocket, which says it will lose $300,000 a yeaer in property taxes. A city official tried to put the best face on the bad news. "The Woonsocket store may or may not reopen," Woonsocket's economic development coordinator told the Patch. "Regardless or not the building needed to close because the building needs to be rehabbed." But if the North Smithfield project had been defeated, or never proposed, Wal-Mart would not be leaving Woonsocket. City officials are holding onto the fiction that the dead Woonsocket store might come back to life if Wal-Mart sees that its North Smithfield store does not attract shoppers from Woonsocket. But once a Wal-Mart store is shut down, it stays shut down. The Wal-Mart spokesman admitted that the company is counting on "most of our existing customers (to) continue to frequent the new store."
Woonsocket's economic development coordinator remained loyal to Wal-Mart even as the retailer was abandoning his city. "The number one best solution is for Wal-Mart to stay here," the coordinator told the Woonsocket Patch. "They're a good corporate citizen and they give the community a good product. If they can't stay here we would hope another quality business would come in such as Christmas Tree Shops or BJ's Wholesale."
The number one best solution for Woonsocket would have been to testify against the North Smithfield "Dowling Village" project.But either Woonsocket officials did not see the trainwreck coming, or did not believe that Wal-Mart would actually shut down a profit-making store. Woonsocket officials gave Wal-Mart everything they wanted to move into the city -- and now Wal-Mart has moved out without even looking back. The chances that a BJs club would open up in that space is next to none. BJs would want to build its own store to suit its needs, and would not want to locate 5 miles from a new supercenter. Wal-Mart is considered one of BJ's major competitive threats.
The battle against the North Smithfield store went on for around six years. All during this time, the developer told local residents that one of their anchors was not a Wal-Mart, and definitely not a supercenter. Sprawl-Busters reported on April 18, 2010 that the North Smithfield's planner said the retailer's site "appears to be a Wal-Mart but I don't believe it's a super Wal-Mart." The planner said that the plans have suggested to him that the plan is "for a Wal-Mart/Target." The developer focused on the status of the agreement with Wal-Mart -- not on whether it was a Wal-Mart or not. The developer said it was his "company's long-standing policy not to comment on prospective tenants when there are no leases signed. We are in discussions with several national tenants."
What you can do: In the spring of 2010, the Mayor of Woonsocket said he would block water service to North Smithfield's Dowling Village if the developer signed a tenant agreement with Wal-Mart.
The Mayor understood that if Wal-Mart opened at Dowling Village, his city would have a dead Wal-Mart on its hands on Diamond Hill Road. "Clearly they're moving forward on the assumption that there is a water agreement," the Mayor The Woonsocket Call newspaper. "But we're not just going to sit back and watch when someone's raiding our kitchen and give them the keys to the pantry."
Readers should email the Mayor of Woonsocket, Leo Fontaine, at email@example.com with the following message:
"Dear Mayor Fontaine, You were correct that North Smithfield has just raided your kitchen and stolen your Wal-Mart. After all your city did for Wal-Mart, the retailer seemed to be happy to pull the plug on your Diamond Hill store.
You are consigned now to live with a dead store that will be very hard to market to anyone else. Woonsocket should ask Wal-Mart to take some of its profits from the North Smithfield fund and put it into an escrow account to help demolish the Diamond Hill store if it is not rented within 24 months after it shuts down. That's the least Wal-Mart owes your community."