Surrender Derby!

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.


About Sue Prent

Artist/Writer/Activist living in St. Albans, Vermont with my husband since 1983. I was born in Chicago; moved to Montreal in 1969; lived there and in Berlin, W. Germany until we finally settled in St. Albans.

24 thoughts on “Surrender Derby!

  1. It’s my understanding that after nearly decades of deliberation Mr. Davis was granted the right by the Vermont State Environmental Court to build a 147,000 square foot Wal-Mart in St. Albans.

    If the regulation at the time of the application for development required 5 parking spaces per 1,000 square feet it would mean that 735 parking spaces would be required for the 147,000 square foot structure.

    If Mr. Davis’ request to reduce the requirement to 4 parking spaces per 1,000 square feet then that would necessitate that 588 parking spaces are created to develop the 147,000 square feet structure.

    The difference between the two parking spaces per 1,000 square feet would be 147 parking spaces, right?

    If that’s true, what exactly does Mr. Davis’ 115 parking spaces reduction request represent?

    A reduction in the total number of parking spaces developed for this project would reduce the amount of impervious surface developed and could represent a win for the developer (due to significantly less costs) and a win for those who seek to minimize the environmental impact of the development of this project.

    What am I missing?


  2. Why?

    When asked, point-blank by the DRB why he wanted the reduction in spaces, Mr. Davis said Walmart had requested it.

    You may believe Mr. Davis’ assertion that the “why” is because Walmart requested a reduced number of parking spaces, but I am doubtful.

    Something is up.

  3. I heard yesterday that St. Albans is about to spend a huge amount of money on ‘revitalizing’ it’s downtown area.

    I say, why are they wasting all that money when they just approved a Wal-Mart the sole point of which is to devastate all other businesses in the town, turning downtown into a desolate wasteland.

  4. It’s money.

    Developing parking spaces costs a ton of money. Asking for less onerous parking development requirements happens with almost every permit application I see, along with requests for less onerous landscaping requirements, less onerous road improvement requirements, etc… And, I believe those requests are primarily inspired by the costs assoiciated with those types of development conditions.

    My (or your) belief in what inspired Mr. Davis’ request to the DRB is completely irrelevant, but my guess is that he’s asking for the reduction because the prospect of developing fewer parking spaces for this development means there’s a greater potential for more money to end up in his pocket at the end of the day.

    That’s what’s up.

  5. the developer and the state will be announcing the st. albans lite rail stop next week. they need the spaces to fit in the platforms and ticket machine. it will run off a spur from the amtrak line, so that we can attract canadians to buy cheap crap… and leave their cars over the border.

    win, win, win!

  6. At four spaces per 1,000 sq. ft. we’re still talking about the development of 588 parking spaces (vs. 735 at 5 spaces per 1,000 sg. ft.). What this developer is attempting to do on behalf of Wal-Mart is consistent with what many other developers have attempted to do on behalf of this corporation for many years, well before James Howard Kunstler read them their last rights.


    That being said, and as I said above, I think this proposal makes a lot of sense for both the developer and environmentalists. Many communities have developed standards that create a two-tiered requirement for parking spaces; something akin to 5 spaces per 1,000 sq. ft. up to 25,000 sq. ft. of retail space and then 3 spaces per 1,000 sq. ft. for anything beyond that.  

  7. I may need a fainting couch at the thought of a developer not telling a ZBA or DRB the whole truth about their motives for a request that would save them a bundle of money in the development process if their request were granted.

    While you got caught chasing the notion that this request somehow represents that Walmart is in its last throes with this post, I’d argue that what the developer said in his request to the DRB, while not speaking about the motive for the request, was likely factually true.

  8. the two instances you cited (one in 2004 and one in 2009) are for stores that were under development by Walmart.

    In the current situation, nearly a decade after the first example you’ve given, JLD Properties is the owner and developer of property he hopes to lease for occupation by Walmart.

  9. If it’s true that Walmart as a developer has made these requests in the past, then that would further supports that Mr. Davis’ request could in fact have come on behalf of Walmart as he provided in his testimony. As Walmart might view the permitted development cost with JDL at the helm to cost more than it ought to and are seeking to remedy that through this request. I’m pretty sure that JLD would pass along the cost of the development of these additional parking spaces along to their tenant. This is yet another example of Walmart simply attempting to roll back costs every single day.

    The question the board could be asked is “why the hell wasn’t this “parking issue” brought up during the application phase (or any other phase) of this process, and what allows the developer or his tenant to request this amendment to the permit after years of litigation that provided the developer with what they wanted?

  10. You actually think Walmart will let Davis pass along any unanticipated costs to them?

    This is yet another example of Walmart simply attempting to roll back costs every single day.

    Easy there, Farjas, you’re beginning to sound a little too much like a Walmart commercial.  I respect you too much to beat you up about it.  But really; how’d that come out of your subconscious?

    In any case, I quite agree with your last point; and that is more or less the point I have made in my letter to Geoff Green, Coordinator of District 6, Act 250.

  11. It was a poor attempt at a joke. Sorry it was lost on you. I respect you too much to beat you (or myself) up about that.

    These costs aren’t and weren’t “unanticipated” by JLD or Walmart, but who it is that wants to avoid these expenses is fairly irrelevant. No matter who it is that has inspired this request, the fact is they are trying to usurp the typical development process to avoid one of the costs associated with development that your community has set as a standard through your zoning regulations. Meanwhile, you’ve spent time concocting conspiracy theories in an attempt to attribute a motivation for their request.  I believe that’s pursing a motive is a complete waste of time. Stay focused. They appear to be making an attempt at an end around St. Albans’ zoning regulations, yet again.  

  12. there promises to be a whole new generation of abandoned Walmarts littering the land in the very near future, as the company abandons supercenter dinosaurs altogether in order to preserve the bottom line.

    The first to go will be the leased ones.

  13. In real estate, 8 years is more than “somewhat outdated”.

    The link you provided from Daily Kos contains many dead links including the one used in 2005 to provide the thrust of the story. The 2005 link to “the list of properties being sold at the moment by Wal-Mart Realty” no longer works. However, here’s a link to Wal-Mart Realty’s current buildings for sale.

    Wal-Mart Realty currently has 40 buildings for sale nationwide.

    A Google search reveals that there are roughly 4,250 Wal-Mart’s nationwide.

    40 buildings would represent less than 1% of their nationwide total of stores.

    With Wal-Mart planning to add roughly 205 new stores in 2013, I don’t see how the current data supports the contention that this company’s doing any worse today than they were 8 years ago.

    And just today, Wal-Mart announced 4th quarter 2012 earnings driven by a bigger-than-expected profit increase prompting the company to raise its fiscal year 2014 dividend to $1.88 share, or an increase of 18 percent.

    I have no stake or interest in Wal-Mart whatsoever. I never shop there. However, I think the recent stories predicting their imminent demise are based more on wishful thinking than thoughtful analysis.

  14. Like many outsiders, CR, you have failed to distinguish between St. Albans CITY and St. Albans TOWN.

    Walmart was approved by St. Albans Town for its northern border next to Swanton along Route 7, not far from the drive-in movie theater.

    St. Albans CITY is working on spiffing up its downtown to attract folks downtown, to have a thriving merchandise and restaurant center for shoppers and visitors, to fight or at least counterbalance that great sucking motion moving Vermont dollars to Bentonville Arkansas and factories in China.

    Do please make a note of the distinction for future reference.


    As we view the achievements of aggregated capital, we discover the existence of trusts, combinations, and monopolies, while the citizen is struggling far in the rear or is trampled to death beneath an iron heel. Corporations, which should be the carefully restrained creatures of the law and the servants of the people, are fast becoming the people’s masters. ~ Grover Cleveland

  15. With different political cultures and an extremely uneasy relationship.

    The City has a remarkably good administration that is doing all that it can to build a sustainably livable future, all the while battling some very tough challenges.

  16. would probably like to kill off the City.  

    The vast majority of folks in the Town are extremely nice and sane.  

    The clan of curmudgeons count on voter apathy (since it really is largely a bedroom community and everyone’s dog-tired by the time they get home) to allow them to carry on the way they do, year after year.

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