Daily Archives: December 20, 2007

Darkness on the Edge of Town

Although Newman Development Group would have us believe that Lowe’s would never consider closing the doors of a future Geneseo location, anyone not on their payroll should recognize this as nonsense. Big Boxes close all the time, whether because of a shift to a new store design, a larger store, a better location, or poor store performance.

We saw this first hand when Wal-Mart moved across the street and left its old store dark for several years. Henrietta has seen Hechingers, Builder’s Square (remember them?), Dick’s Sporting Goods, and many others come and go. At their opening, each store appeared fresh and solid and permanent, “anchors” of vital plazas. Before long, they were closed, dark, and blighted, detritus of a restless and reckless retail economy.

Recognizing this, the Town Planning Board requested that Newman provide some assurance against a future dark store; either a promise to tear down an empty store or build it in a way that made it easier to reuse. Showing the same level of sensitivity to local concerns that it has displayed throughout this long ordeal, Newman said that the Planning Board’s concerns were “foolish” and “implausible” and that Lowe’s would not be leaving this store. Moreover, Newman said, the Town lacked the authority to require them to provide any protection against a future dark store.

I wonder if Lowe’s gave the same assurances to State College, PA, Wooster, OH, Potomac Mills, MD, Newport News, VA, Greenville, SC, Prince William Co, VA, Elizabeth City, NC, West Columbia, SC, or any other of the numerous communities in which it has closed stores in recent years?

I wonder if Wal-Mart gave such assurances to any of the 261 communities across the country with presently vacant Wal-Marts? That’s right, 261 stores, or approximately 35 million square feet of retail space.

If business continues to go well for Lowe’s, we can expect them to move to a larger store or a “better” location, perhaps closer to 390. If business doesn’t go so well, we can expect lower performing stores and stores in marginal markets to be closed. Only if business is just right – call this the Goldilocks scenario – is Lowe’s likely to occupy this location for more than ten or twelve years. After that, the empty store is ours to keep.

I’m not much for fairy tales, not with daily headlines about the bursting housing bubble, the 68% increase in home foreclosures, the expectation that housing values will fall 20-30% nationwide, and predictions that the bottom of this fall is still several years off.

In an economy in which incomes have not kept pace with consumer spending, families can no longer look to the equity in their homes to balance their books. Add to this rising gas prices and sharply increased inflation and retail growth looks likely to slow or stall or even reverse. This situation would seem to be particularly acute for home improvement retailers. After all, far fewer houses are being built, sold, bought, remodeled, and furnished.

So, I think the Planning Board is wise to seek some assurance against a future dark store. I don’t know whether the board has the authority to require such assurance. However, if the flexibility provided by the PDD law is worth anything, it ought to be able to be used to encourage Newman to give Geneseo something the board has requested and the community needs.