Urban Areas Say 'No' To Wal-Mart

Wal-Mart's expansion into urban areas, which the company believes is necessary for continued growth, is continuing to meet strong opposition.

While Wal-Mart continues to dominate rural America, "the retailer is acting to correct the imbalance: In the 12 months since July 2005, two-thirds of the stores opened by Wal-Mart have been in urban or semi-urban areas, ACNielsen says."

Last year, Wal-Mart attempted to open its first store in Boston, but eventually bailed out due to strong opposition. "Wal-Mart does not suit the clientele we have in the city of Boston," says Mayor Thomas Menino, explaining his opposition. "They don't pay wages that are sufficient. Their benefit structure is poor. I don't need employers like that in our city."

Wal-Mart has had success, however, in penetrating other parts of America's urban areas. For example, Wal-Mart in 2004, opened its first store in Chicago's West Side. "The city's alderman responded by passing a law mandating that big retailers pay employees an hourly wage of at least $10 and health-care benefits equivalent to at least $3 an hour." However, Mayor Richard Daly vetoed the law.

Besides Boston, Wal-Mart has fallen on particularly hard times statewide. Massachusetts, characterized as being "urbanized, educated, and liberal", operates only 47 stores. Meanwhile, Oklahoma, a state with less than half the population of Massachusetts, has 106 stores. Nonetheless, even with an average plan review process exceeding, in some cases, more than two years, Wal-Mart continues with its urban push.

Full Story: Seeking Expansion in Urban Areas, Wal-Mart Stores Gets Cold Shoulder



Building a Wal-Mart Downtown

Home Depot has a store in Manhattan. Guess what, it's not a big box on eight acres of asphalt, but I bethcha sales are awesome.

My point is that it's the FORM of Wal-Mart that's so objectionable, not some vague notion that it's too redneck to be in the city.

Downtown Englewood, CO, had a nice, mixed use TOD redevelopment going at the old Cinderella City mall site, and then they went and whored it out to Wal-Mart with it's car-centric layout. It totally ruined any pedestrian friendliness at the light rail stop, and it encourages driving the to the city center. But hey, sales are great.

An urban Wal-Mart in Honolulu

Two years ago, Wal-Mart opened a big box store (150,000 sq. ft.) in a dense urban setting on busy Ke'eaumoku Street in Honolulu, just blocks away from Waikiki. The only cars in sight are those heading up a narrow ramp next to the main pedestrian entrance facing Ke'eaumoku Street. A system of ramps, serving various parking levels are tucked in at the rear of the complex, with additional car and service vehicle access located around the corner on Makaloa Street, serving the adjacent Ward Centre shopping mall as well, which fronts Makaloa. Wal-Mart has parking for 1700 cars, located on several levels, including the roof, all built on top of and/or behind the Wal-Mart store. All one sees from the street is the Wal-Mart store facade, several stories high, looking no worse, architecturally, than the typical downtown, big-city department store. There's not a parking lot in sight. There was, in fact, a reasonable attempt to achieve some sort of design aesthetic on the Ke'eaumoku Street facade, at least one beyond the usual drab Wal-Mart look.

All of this is located just a two-block walk from the rear side of more up-market Ala Moana Centre (the biggest shopping mall between San Francisco and Sydney). In front of Ala Moana is the largest bus terminal in Honolulu, with buses serving all of metro Honolulu and as well the entire island of Oahu (all for a flat $1.50 fare). There are also buses headed east-bound, toward Waikiki and beyond, from the rear side of Ala Moana Centre on Kona Street, just two short blocks from Wal-Mart.

The point is, Wal-Mart doesn't have to build an ugly, (totally) car-centric, generic big box in the middle of eight acres of asphalt if it doesn't want to. The experience in Honolulu proves that the Bentonville-Arkansas aesthic doesn't necessarily need to be imposed everywhere.

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