Vancouver, WA. Invasion of the Neighborhood Markets
Several months ago, Wal-Mart announced that it planned to build a Neighborhood Market in Vancouver, Washington. That fact was not as important as the site the retailer had chosen for its project -- an empty grocery store abandoned by one of its competitors.
A spokesman for Wal-Mart would not respond to The Columbian newspaper's questions about this particular site, but emailed the newspaper: "We currently have about 155 locations across the country and hope to double that number nationally by 2013." That was in October: so by January of 2013, Wal-Mart hopes to have another 155 Neighborhood Markets open for the public.
That makes Neighborhood Markets one of the major growth vehicles for Wal-Mart this year. An experiment started in 1998, the Neighborhood Market represent part of Wal-Mart's increasing focus on food, on smaller formats, and on urban sites.
The developer at the Vancouver site is Seattle-based PacLand, a company that Sprawl-Busters has followed throughout the Northwest. PacLand has run into stiff opposition to its big box stores in places like Gresham, Cornelius and The Dalles, Oregon; Chico, and Red Bluff, California; Chelan and Yelm, Washington, and Cedar Hills, Utah. Almost everywhere this developer goes, controversy and opposition goes with it.
PacLand gave the city of Vancouver plans for a 42,000 s.f grocery store to replace a vacant 83,000 s.f. Fred Meyer grocery store at Fourth Plain and Grand. According to The Columbian, The applicant, PacLand, is also reusing the site of a empty furniture store to put up a Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market in Washington County, Oregon.
Wal-Mart clearly has shifted its growth strategy to smaller footprints in urban areas, with site reuse as a prominent strategy -- as opposed to finding new, undeveloped sites. It is far easier for Wal-Mart to tear down an existing retailer and build a Neighborhood Market, than it is to find and get permitted a superstore on an undeveloped parcel.
The empty Fred Meyer store has sat empty in the central corridor of Vancouver for almost five years. According to the newspaper, the store was empty not because it was a bad location, or that the recessionary market was bad -- but because there was a covenent on the deed which stipulated "that another grocery store could not locate there for five years."
A California real estate company bought the property in 2006 -- so that deed restriction is due to expire this year, allowing Wal-Mart to replace the Fred Meyer store that it helped drive out of business in the first place.
What you can do: A year ago this month, Wal-Mart announced that it would begin construction on another superstore in Vancouver in the Orchards area. That store was first announced in 2006, and took more than five years to produce.
Today, there are three Wal-Mart superstores in Clark County, and two more superstores are planned for the area. There is also no shortage of grocery stores for Vancouver shoppers.
One resident in Vancouver wrote to Sprawl-Busters this week to complain about this Neighborhood Market, and the saturation of retail stores in his community. "There's going to be an opening store near my community and I am very concerned," he wrote. "I would like to know what I can do to stop the construction of this retail store? I've been searching a lot and I will continue searching and I hope you could help me find the right ways to stop Wal-Mart from incorporating more in my community. There are already three Wal-Mart' in Vancouver Washington area -- and we don't need anymore."
In commenting on this story in the newspaper, this unhappy resident wrote: "Wal-Mart impoverishes the community. I support buying local and supporting the community. It is important to know that when we support a corporation like Wal-Mart, we support the labor law & human rights violations Wal-Mart has been proven to be guilty of."
Readers are urged to send an email to Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt at: Tim.Leavitt@cityofvancouver.us with the following message:
Dear Mayor Leavitt,
Your city's slogan is 'pride, progress and possibilities.' What kind of progress is it to saturate your city with national big box stores? What pride can you take in this kind of sprawl? Wal-Mart is not a form of economic development. And what possibilities are you closing off by having a retail economy controlled by a few out-of-state corporations?
Nowhere is this economic displacement more apparent than in the proposal to build a Neighborhood Market in the ashes of a dead Fred Meyer store. Wal-Mart helped kill off the Meyer store -- as the Arkansas corporation rose to become the largest grocery in the country -- forcing many other smaller stores to close.
This retail musical chairs is all about market share at this point -- shifting control to larger and larger conglomerates, which extract more money out of the Vancouver economy. A Neighborhood Market will "create" no net new jobs. Most of its sales will come from existing merchants in Vancouver.
Instead of looking for local businesses that are truly 'neighborhood' in their focus, the City Council has encouraged a takeover by the chains. As Mayor, you should be looking for ways to encourage local entrepreneurs to use the empty spaces created by the retailing wars, and keep more of that money local -- rather than moving more market share into the pockets of the 1% corporations."