It is a well-known fact that I am a vocal opponent of big box retail in Vermont.
When I sat down to my e-mail this morning, it was bristling with links sent by helpful friends to a single feature piece by James Howard Kunstler.
Recounting the arc of “irrational exuberance” that described the big box store era in America, Mr. Kunstler proclaims that era to be finally at an end, having reduced the nation significantly from an economic, environmental and social standpoint.
America made itself hostage to bargain shopping and then committed suicide. Here we find another axiom of human affairs at work: People get what they deserve, not what they expect. Life is tragic…In a now permanently contracting economy the big box model fails spectacularly. Every element of economic reality is now poised to squash them.
Well said, Mr. Kunstler; and the realities of big box failure have begun to turn off Wall Street, as well.
But with JLD Properties making ground-breaking noises for Walmart, in both St. Albans and Derby, Vermont seems poised to serve as the final resting place of the big box retail dinosaur. Could we really be that stupid?
Could Walmart really be that stupid?
I suppose they could be; after all, since the 1970’s Walmart’s overarching game-plan was to become its only competitor. Like a cancer it grew uncontrollably, sapping life-giving energy from everything around it: other businesses, suppliers, labor and customers; until, inevitably, its success has turned on itself and is in the process of consuming the host.
For his part, I have long suspected that JL Davis operates on the principle of self-fulfilling prophesy. You know… ” If I build it, they will come.” “They” being Walmart.
Walmart is probably not averse to lending its brand to a loyal accolade of its expansion, such as Davis has certainly been over the years. Thus equipped, Davis can make his pitch to St. Albans or Derby with some legitimacy even before Walmart is truly on the hook.
I suspect Walmart is never truly “on the hook” for properties it does not own, until the developer achieves that certain “sweet spot” on behalf of Walmart, where the retail giant gets to operate on precisely the terms it currently finds most profitable. If that is never achieved, all bets are off.
It is in light of those suspicions that I received the news that, in St. Albans, Mr. Davis is quietly requesting that his permit be amended to eliminate 115 parking places. He is also asking that the parking space requirement be reduced from five spaces per 1,000-sq. ft. of retail space to four. At five spaces per 1,000 sq. ft., those 115 parking places equal roughly 23,000 sq. ft. of retail space. At four spaces per, they equals almost 30,000 sq.ft. of retail space!
It is reasonable to wonder, what exactly is going on there?
I’ll leave you with that tantalizing question and a piece of advice to the good folks of Derby: Run.
Run just as fast as you can to avoid being struck by the economic comet that is coming to wipe-out Walmart.