Dreams Dashed

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There aren’t any details yet, but the Tribune is reporting that Wal-Mart has decided NOT to build a second store in Great Falls. If this is true, then I’m very disappointed. Although I rarely shop at Wal-Mart, it really angers me that the “anti-Wal-Mart mafia” appears to have made enough noise to convince Wal-Mart not to build here. There may be other factors, but it sure looked like all of the right ingredients were in place: large enough population base, ample space/land, growing economy.

EDIT: Some discussion over the Tribune’s website, and more details about the news.

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7 Comments

  1. Stupid is as stupid does. It’s sad how some groups in this city think the road to prosperity is constructed by obstructing others from doing something. They tell us where we can’t shop and where we shouldn’t work. I wonder if Planning Board chairman Bill Bronson will celebrate by treating his wife to a trip to Billings to get some shopping done. Then he can get started on stopping Lowes from coming here too.

  2. In my opinion a sad day indeed for Great Falls! The planning board, the anti-growth “Small Fallsers” and the anti Wal-Mart crowd had a lot to do with sinking the project. Wal-Marts decision to drop the deal because of market changes was just a nice way of saying “if you don’t want us the heck with ya” Not to worry though, the new flying mission we are going to get any minute will pick up the slack–HA

  3. There’s a lively discussion about this on the Tribune’s site. Those who say local Wal-Mart opposition killed this project haven’t a clue about how business works. Wal-Mart doesn’t back down from opposition, and, in the case of Great Falls, the retailer encountered very little pushback. Wal-Mart is used to dealing with thousands of protestors and lengthy legal battles. None of that surfaced in Great Falls. The project had good momentum and minimal opposition. The Chamber, the Tribune and other business leaders backed the project. Yes, our mayor wasn’t actively supporting it, but the commission would have overridden her – if she went so far as to cast an anti-business vote.

    In the end, Great Falls was done in by its own demographics and trends: low wages in a market with hasn’t shown population growth in more than 40 years. In fact, most area counties that would shop the store are actually losing people.

    Wal-Mart had better places to place it next bet.

  4. Jocko- Talk about not having a clue how business works. Wal-Mart didn’t get this far into the project without having already evaluated the demographics. The numbers must have recently penciled out or they wouldn’t have invested all the start up costs just to say no. Something changed. I don’t think it was that the Great Falls economy took a down turn that we locals are unaware of. Maybe Wal-Mart Wasn’t so optimistic as to which way the commissioners would vote. I saw one of them sitting in the middle of the protestors at the Planning Board meeting where Wal-Mart was voted down. Your right, silence from the mayor could imply she was anti. This means only one more no vote to shut it all down. Wal-Mart might very well have pulled out preemptively to preserve whatever good name it has left for the sake of the other store.

  5. Speaking as an outsider but as a regular business visitor and former resident, I suspect that Wal-Mart abandoned the project due to pressure from the investment community rather than local opposition. They have abandoned quite a number of projects recently – not just the Great Falls store.

    They are under increasing pressure to get their stock price moving (it has basically not increased in the last 6 years). There is a lot of concern among analysts that they have reached the point of seriously overbuilding stores in many parts of the country.

    I just can’t see that any opposition they received in Great Falls caused them to change their mind about going ahead with the second store. They regularly face opposition to most of their projects and deal with it as a matter of course. In reality, the opposition they received in Great Falls was relatively minor compared to what they regularly have to face.

    I suspect the project will get back on track once Wal-Mart gets its growth strategy sorted out. They have made a large number of management changes the last few months and I suspect that things are in flux at headquarters right now.

  6. What many people don’t realize is that the Mayor and the City Commission have VERY little control over retail projects. In the case of WalMart, that control involved annexation and zoning. I don’t choose to shop at WalMart, but others do. I was elected to represent the wishes of the people, and had I been voting on this issue, I would have followed their wishes. If they want a second WalMart, I would support that.

  7. I read the Tribune article again, and something came to mind.

    Wal-Mart mentioned that the reason for them not building a second store is “changed business conditions”.

    I wonder if the “changed business conditions” are that Costco is planning to come to Great Falls.

    If they are planning to come, Wal-Mart would undoubtedly know about it. They have access to huge amounts of retail intelligence. In my opinion, the appearance of a Costco in Great Falls would certainly quash any thoughts by Wal-Mart about building a second store.

    After all, if Helena can support the proposed Costco there, I am sure Great Falls can support one too. And I don’t think Costco would feel terribly threatend by the existing Sam’s Club. Sales at an average Costco are twice that of an average Sam’s.

    What a fantastic draw Costco would be for Great Falls.

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