Tupelo, MS. Residents Upset With Wal-Mart's Plans For 3 Neighborhood Markets
Wal-Mart's "saturation" strategy is best summarized by its late founder, Sam Walton, who wrote in his autobiography, "We became our own competition." Studies of Wal-Mart sales suggest that somewhere between 60% and 80% of its sales are "captured" from existing merchants. This grim picture has not been lost on the residents of Tupelo, Mississippi.
Earlier this month, the city of Tupelo, perhaps best-known as the birthplace of Elvis Presley, was named by Where to Retire magazine as a "top retirement destination." Tupelo is one of the cities profiled in a feature titled "8 Low-Cost Cities" in the September/October issue of the magazine. "While home prices and everyday expenses may be lower in these towns, retirees aren't sacrificing amenities and activities by relocating to these communities," wrote the magazine's editor.
It is no surprise, therefore, that Wal-Mart has been attracted to a "low-cost" city like Tupelo. There are currently six Wal-Mart stores within 25 miles of Tupelo, including two existing Wal-Marts inside the city limits, on West Main Street and on North Gloster.
The median household income in Tupelo is $41,300 per year--which is about 6% above the state average. Roughly 22.5% of the city's households are living below the poverty line, about the same as the state average. Yet retail sales per capita in Tupelo are about three times the state average--suggesting that retailers can do well in this city.
But there are only so many slices you can take from the pie. Local residents in Tupelo reached out to Sprawl-Busters this week "to make you aware of a situation in our town that is probably unprecedented." Tupelo has a population of around 36,000 people (2013 census), and a list of 30 stores that sell groceries. "We have 2 Wal-Mart superstores, 2 Krogers, 1 Sam's Club, a Cost Plus grocery store, Save-A-Lot, and 2 independently owned grocery stores- one of which has been family owned for 60 years."
Concerned citizens in Tupelo say they have "recently been made aware by a very reliable source that Wal-Mart has purchased 3 pieces of property in town, and are planning on opening up three 40,00 s.f. Neighborhood Markets. This is unbelievable to us, and it will totally suck the life out of our town." The two nearby Wal-Mart superstores would served as feeders for the smaller Neighborhood Markets.
According to these residents, Wal-Mart has filed no paperwork with the city, and no land sale has gone through. Wal-Mart generally will not want to own land until any permits needed have been obtained by the landowner. The retailer is so accustomed to a hostile reaction to their name, that they will not reveal themselves until the land permits have all been achieved.
People in City Hall apparently understand the negative impact that 3 new Neighborhood Markets would have on existing retailers. But as of this date, Wal-Mart's expansion plans in the community have not been in the media, so its still a stealth operation. As many activists have learned the hard way: Wal-Mart is like a cheap pair of underwear: they keep creeping up on you---even in the deep south.
The 3 new grocery stores would be like a gun targeted at the existing grocery stores, and Wal-Mart sales will be drawn predominately from other cash registers. For this reason, Wal-Mart is not a source of new jobs. It is a form of economic displacement, not economic development.
Tupelo describes itself as "Mississippi's All American City." The city's inundation with Wal-Mart's has made it a regional center for foreign-made imports, more of a China-Mart for the community. There are groups in town who understand the importance of local merchants. One of them is the Downtown Tupelo Main Street Association, which says its goal "is to sustain and enhance the downtown experience in Tupelo, MS. The Main Street Approach is a community-driven, comprehensive methodology used to revitalize older, traditional business districts throughout the United States." According to the Downtown Association, "From electricity to Elvis Presley, Tupelo has always been at the forefront of progressive thinking. The city has renewed itself many times but one thing has remained true always: Tupelo is an upbeat, happy city where people believe they can accomplish anything; especially when they share an idea. Tupelo is full of contagious optimism and is ready to become the Center of Positivity."
What you can do: Readers are urged to email the Mayor of Tupelo, Jason Shelton, at http://www.tupeloms.gov/ask-the-mayor/ with the following message:
Dear Mayor Shelton,
It's hard to see how flooding Tupelo with national chain superstores represents the "contagious optimism" of your city. Your city gave birth to the King of Rock & Roll---but your image now is being changed by the King of Retail.
You have served for years on the Tupelo Quality of Life Committee. I am sure you know that there is one thing you cannot buy on any self at Wal-Mart: Small Town Quality of Life. And once they have taken it from you, you cant buy it back at any price.
Remember that the mission of the Zoning Code in Tupelo is "to ensure that neighboring land uses be compatible with one another." Adding more 'big box' stores is not compatible with Tupelo's 2025 Comprehensive Plan, and does not meet your Development Design Standards, which seek to encourage a pedestrian scale, walkable community.
Mr. Mayor, you can dilute the special character of Tupelo. Your predecessors have already allowed two huge Wal-Mart superstores into your city---more Wal-Mart square footage per capita than in most cities in your state. This project will forecast the end of a number of local merchants in Tupelo, resulting in a loss of jobs and revenue, and more buildings potentially blighted.
Please urge your City Council to protect Tupelo's quality of life, and protect real residential neighborhood scale, not the sprawling scale of these Neighborhood Markets---which take up almost one acre for the building alone, not to mention the asphalt parking lots."