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Is Wal-Mart eating my Chatham County?

By Jeff Lane
Posted Wednesday, September 27, 2006

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Chatham County, NC - I agree with what John Bonitz is saying, in principle, but I do have a couple issues that should be considered...

"Here in Cackalacky, Wal-Mart currently has 673,000 sq feet of vacant buildings."

First off is that. 673,000 square feet is NOT that much for a group of Wal-Mart stores. Having worked in three of the smaller ones and two super-centers (one was a older store converted to a super center) I can say that there are only two on that list for NC that qualify as Super Centers. The rest are, I imagine, but that is only a supposition on my part, smaller older stores being closed as they build Super Centers to replace them in a given area. Most of the Super Centers are approximately 120,000 - 150,000 square feet. That 673K figure you provide would only be about five or six buildings across the entire state. In fact, there are only nine listed there for the ENTIRE state of North Carolina.

I dont see that as a "giant gaping hole" in retail space. How many empty stores are there of all types in urban blight areas? Been to some of the rougher areas of Raleigh and Durham recently? And while they DO own them, and can just let them sit empty, it looks to me, from the link that you provided, that they are at least making an effort to sell them off, or lease them to other businesses. That sounds a little like helping the local economies to me. But I digress. That is just another supposition on my part.

As for the figures indicated in the next set of links you provide, those ARE hard numbers and need to be considered. And to be honest, I didnt have time to really read them since it is late and I really should be in bed right now. Therefore I won't comment on them since I do not have facts to stand on there.

The only other thing I can say is that I agree that we, as Chatham residents, and the board and other people DO need to consider a lot of things if we are going to open the door to big box retailers. But you also mention that wal-mart policy forbids certain types of businesses from moving in to their old buildings. Well, of course they do. They would be silly not to. But MANY retailers of that scale do that.

How many of those empty Winn-Dixie stores do you think became other grocery stores? When CVS bought up one of their competitors, they either moved CVS into the competitor's building, OR closed the competitor down and left the building empty, not allowing other drug stores to move in.

That's not a Wal-Mart thing. It's a big retailer thing.

But more importantly to Chatham County, however, is that I really think we should just lay off the Wal-Mart rhetoric. I would think it would be a FAR more productive use of all this time and energy y'all put into this crusade against Wal-Mart to come up with ways to take the existing empty retail spaces around Chatham and make them viable. Look at all the empty spots in Siler City. Pittsboro has some as well. And look at all the new office buildings being put in Pittsboro that still don't have tenents.

I agree with you that caution needs to be taken, less we open the proverbial flood gates and become over run with large parking lots and giant multi-acre retail stores. At the same time, it seems rather counter productive to protest one while not really saying or doing anything about the existing empty retail space. I have hard plenty of "Wal-Mart is evil and will destroy our county" and have yet to hear anything about "We need to attract new businesses that will attract a larger and more varied demographic of customer"

I love the "downtown" area of Pittsboro, but lets be honest. Pittsboro is little more than antiques and boutiques. Pittsboro serves a VERY SMALL niche market and does NOT draw a large number of shoppers from all around for retail business. It attracts antique collectors and women looking for boutique clothing outlets. It does not really attract many of the major marketing demographics.

And I say that as one of those demographics, the 30-35 year old professional male with some disposable income. I don't need antiques. I don't need women's shoes. I don't need boutique dresses and fashions. And many many people my age don't either, which is why, sadly, I spend the vast majority of my disposable income in Durham, Cary and Raleigh.

Well, that's just my opinion, so take it for what it's worth. And for the record, though, I worked at several Wal-Marts, was able to pay my rent and even go to the doctor on what I made there. True it wasn't much, but then again, I really wasn't doing anything really demanding either. Any monkey can stock shelves and sell toys and sporting goods.

Thus the position does not command much salary. BUT in EVERY single Wal-Mart I worked in, I made above minimum wage, and usually above what the other similar retailers were paying as well, and on Sundays, everyone earned a dollar an hour over their normal wage.

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