Empty Wal-Mart is a waste and Sam's Club should stay out

Every time I pass the vacated Wal-Mart building, I can't help but think, what a waste! More so than the Kmart building. And with reason. The Kmart building doesn't have any takers. The old Wal-Mart building does. Remember Max Baer Jr.? Remember his Beverly Hillbillies Casino concept?

I hold our civic leaders for Carson City in very high regard. But the one thing we disagree on is what the arrival of Wal-Mart, compounded by the possibility of a Sam's Club, will mean to this city.

The wallop a Wal-Mart carries to local business owners and smaller regional retailers is one of neo-biblical power. They arrive like a store-shaped Tsunami as the small business community stands with mouths agape - looking up as the jaw of the monster opens and descends on the city. Each tooth has a retailer's name scrimshawed into its yellowy-white wall. And then, WHAM! With crushing force, the behemoth comes rushing and crashing through the city.

No, I am not happy about Wal-Mart's arrival. To me, it's like realizing someone sprinkled cyanide in my Raisin Bran.

Carson City, our city, is not that big. We have 57,880 residents, not 570,000. The city has only 2.2 percent of its entire 146 square miles reserved as commercial land, with very little of that left for commercial development. We're already surrounded by a planetary structure of big boxes.

To that point, I personally don't see why some people are making such a big deal about Max Baer Jr. wanting to build a casino. Seems to me that the parties involved have allowed personal feelings to collide with legal issues, leaving a mass of dust that blinds everyone of what is really important. What's important is that the city needs to secure a business - a community-friendly business - to fill the barren floor space of a premier piece of real estate. And Sam's Club is NOT the answer.

If, however, the answer is Max Baer Jr.'s Beverly Hillbillies Casino, then let's do it. Do it now. Lay down the firearms and do what is right. What's the harm? The casino, as originally planned, would be exciting. It would employ more than 500 employees. More likely 600. That's the most important thing. Period. New jobs. Make that new jobs that exceed anything a Wal-Mart can bring (the new supercenter will employ about 425).

Trust me folks, in one year or so, you will all see the retail devastation caused by having two Wal-Mart stores in close proximity. At least two grocers will disappear as if sitting on a sinkhole. Then other businesses: furniture stores, auto after-market stores, gift shops, coffee houses, will silently dissolve like seltzer tablets. But I don't see any businesses being threatened with the arrival of the casino. People in this area will still remain loyal to their longtime casino hangouts. It's entertainment. No harm done. Just more places to have a good time. Just because you have two Wal-Marts doesn't mean everyone is going to start buying more and eating more.

Once people on the north end of the city begin racin' their shopping carts through the crowded aisles of the new Wal-Mart, and the city is counting the new tax dollars comin' in, who'll be counting the old tax dollars going out? Besides, Thomas Friedman's new book, "The World is Flat," says in Georgia there are more than 10,000 children of Wal-Mart employees enrolled in a health-care program - a benefit that comes courtesy of Georgia taxpayers by a neat little sum of $10 million a year. That's just one state. It was also reported in the New York Times that an astounding 31 percent of the patients at a hospital in North Carolina were Wal-Mart employees on Medicaid. Who's paying for that? And we want a Sam's Club? Tax dollars in the front door, and tax dollars seeping out the back. And the biggest door gets slammed in the faces of existing and aspiring small business owners.

A vacant building is certainly not the answer. According to Max Baer Jr., the city is losing $193,000.00 per month from last September from nothing happening in the old Wal-Mart building.

We need to encourage small business owners to not get discouraged.

Again, this city - make it this area - just isn't big enough. The distance between the Wal-Mart in Douglas from the new one being built at the north tip of Carson City is only 6.6 miles. Costco is only two-tenths of a mile from the Wal-Mart in Douglas, and 6.4 miles from the one in the north. And, if we have the masochistic pleasure of getting a Sam's Club ANYWHERE close by, we might as well throw a party that gives every retailer in this area a chance to drink a shot of pure grain alcohol, and then bite down hard on an M-80.

n John DiMambro is publisher of the Nevada Appeal. Write him at jdimambro@nevadaappeal.com.


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