When the Westfield Corp. announced that it would like to put a behemoth Wal-Mart smack-dab in the middle of Downtown Plaza, the response from city leaders was quick and forthright. Most of them thought it was an awful idea.
But don’t let all the opposition fool you. This appalling idea is not yet off the table. In fact, it’s not clear that the city can stop Westfield—owners of the underperforming Downtown Plaza since 1998—from doing whatever it wants with its own mall.
Now, we admit something has to be done about Downtown Plaza. About a decade ago, the city gave $14 million to help turn the mall into a redevelopment dream. But things didn’t work out as planned. Sales have been slipping and are not near what suburban malls like Arden Fair are doing. Most people think this is because the plaza has only one anchor store, Macy’s, when such places typically have up to four anchors now.
But depositing a giant Wal-Mart there is definitely not the answer to getting a high-quality anchor. Here are the blunt facts on the globe’s No. 1 retailer. With $244 billion in sales worldwide last year, this colossal company has 4,300 giant stores, 75 percent of them in the United States. More than 100 million customers shop there weekly. Why? Because these days, people are flocking to low-price, one-stop shopping, and that hurts smaller retailers.
Famous for outsourcing jobs to suppliers in countries like Bangladesh and China (did you know that 95 percent of all clothes purchased in America are made overseas?), Wal-Mart often is criticized for its minimum-wage jobs and union busting and for giving huge amounts of money to candidates for public office. (This year, it gave about $467 million to Republicans.) Outside California, Wal-Mart has become famous for vacating existing stores in order to build larger Supercenters. Nationwide, half a billion square feet of retail space literally has been abandoned by Wal-Mart. That’s the equivalent, reports the American Independent Business Alliance, of 4,000 abandoned shopping malls! Despite its press releases to the contrary, Wal-Mart simply is not a good corporate citizen.
During the last decades, Wal-Mart’s strategy was to locate its stores on open, almost rural swaths of land on the edges of cities. But now it has shifted to a strategy that includes locating in urban centers. And folks, our downtown could be next. Westfield’s proposal is to place a Wal-Mart between the two Macy’s stores downtown, with an outside street entrance, probably on L Street, as well as an entrance inside the plaza.
A downtown Wal-Mart would force small and medium-sized stores out of business by the dozen and would hurt redevelopment rather than help it. City leaders should make the most of the fact that the city owns the parking garage below the mall. Ostensibly, the city should have to give approval to any parking related alterations Westfield requires to bring in a Wal-Mart. And Sacramento citizens should create a ruckus, fight this thing hard and make it obvious to all that a Wal-Mart in Downtown Plaza will not stand.