Cuyhoga County, OH
The term 'retail rustling' describes the efforts of one community to steal the merchants that are doing business in another community. It's a form of business poaching that has been going on for many years, but has gotten so cut-throat in some areas that local officials are attempting to get communities to agree to stop the rustling.
In November of 2011, voters in the city of South Euclid, Ohio approved a rezoning ballot question to allow them to poach an existing Walmart in the neighboring city of Cleveland Heights, by building a bigger one less than one mile away in South Euclid.
Although Walmart never acknowledged their involvement in the South Euclid project until three months after the vote, Question 96 on the ballot was the beginning of the end for the Walmart anchor store in the Severance Town Center mall located in neighboring Cleveland Heights.
The economic development director for Cleveland Heights told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that his office had been working hard to keep Walmart in his city. "It makes my stomach turn to think that after this whole rejuvenation of collaboration and communities working together, that we're going to have one big box store move five blocks away to another community," he said.
Emotions ran high during the Question 96 campaign. The developer won—but 45% of South Euclid's voters said "NO" to rezoning. The City Council President David Miller—a strong supporter of poaching Walmart to South Euclid—was quoted in the newspaper as telling Question 96 opponents: "Thank you and goodbye. Crawl back under the rock you came from."
But the issue of 'poaching' a store from a neighboring community did not crawl away. In February of 2012, the city of South Euclid, which stole a Walmart from its neighbor, became the 18th community in Cuyahoga County, Ohio to approve an 'anti-poaching' agreement.
The purpose of the Cuyahoga County Anti-Poaching Protocol is "to express the commitment of the participating communities that they will not actively pursue or encourage the re-location of a business that has not indicated that it is considering a move from its current location in another participating community."
"As a matter of principle," the document says, "we agree that it is desirable, when possible, to retain businesses in the local jurisdiction in which they currently reside. If it is not possible to retain a business in its current local jurisdiction, our next goal is to retain the business in the county in which it currently resides." Signatories to the Agreement say that "if a business has not expressed an interest in re-locating... communities should not actively pursue or 'poach' that company to encourage it to move from its current location." The term "actively pursue" means "to initiate contact with the business directly, with the intent of luring the business, through cold calls, visits, mail solicitations, direct marketing, or other means."
As of February, 20 out of 59 communities in Cuyahoga County have signed on to these protocols. County Executive Ed FitzGerald calls the anti-poaching agreement "an important first step in uniting our county."
This kind of regional land use planning is rare in the "cowboy" world of real estate development. Landowners and developers have pretty much had their way at the local level for the past 50 years—which explains why huge malls have been built next to residential tracts, in the middle of wetlands, and on the edge of highways far from the downtown commercial core of most communities.
California tried to address this issue of big box poaching more than a decade ago. In October of 1999, Sprawl-Busters reported that California Governor Gray Davis had signed legislation which prohibited cities and towns from providing financial incentives to lure big box stores and auto dealers from neighboring communities.
The California law requires the poaching city to share the sales tax revenue with the other city at a rate of 50%, if the relocation would result in a loss to the city where the business is currently located. The law was written to prevent "expensive bidding wars" over big box stores between local governments that were taking place in California, and to prevent a business from threatening to relocate to a nearby city if the current municipality fails to come up with an incentive package for it to stay.
If the Cuyahoga anti-retail rustling Agreement had been in effect between South Euclid and Cleveland Heights before the Walmart poaching began—it is likely that the enormous, 180,000 square foot Walmart would never have happened—and Cleveland Heights would not be facing a loss of jobs and tax revenues from the ailing Severance Town Center.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
The South Euclid City Council—which happily poached a Walmart in November of 2011—three months later inked an agreement to prevent poaching of its own stores. The fact remains, Cuyahoga County is on the right path, and every city, town and village in America should develop similar Anti-Poaching Agreements with its neighbors. Not all big box projects can be stopped this way, but the hop-scotch sprawl perfected by corporations like Walmart would be sharply curtailed.
The redundant South Euclid Walmart should crawl back under the rock it came from. We need to take back control over our hometowns from the 1% corporations who now have the upper hand.
South Euclid, OH
On May 15, 2011, Sprawl-Busters reported from South Euclid, Ohio, that residents were actively organizing to fight off a proposed Walmart superstore. A development company called First Interstate Properties had purchased part of the Oakwood Country Club property in South Euclid, Ohio, with the intent of using part of the land for big box retail.
Owner Mitchell Schneider had purchased 62 acres in South Euclid, and was closing in on another 92 acres in Cleveland Heights. Schneider described his plans as 63 acres for retail, 22 acres for residential, and the rest open space. Schneider indicated at the time that like his other malls, he’d like to attract stores like Target, Home Depot or Walmart.
There are currently 6 Walmart stores within 15 miles of South Euclid/Cleveland Heights area, including one Walmart right in Cleveland Heights on Mayfield Road, and a superstore 8 miles away in Bedford. The entire shopping center footprint under consideration would be around 325,000 s.f., or around the size of 5.5 football fields—plus the parking area.
The land First Interstate chose was zoned residential, not commercial—so opponents began to organize around that vulnerable issue. A group called Citizens for Oakwood, which is part of a larger non-profit group called the Severance Neighborhood Organization (SNO), began organizing for a bitter fight. “The future of the neighborhood is in your hands” the group said in a postcard mailing, which showed a photo of the Country Club with a bulldozer threatening it. “Is This What You Want?”
This battle was a déjà vu for Cleveland Heights residents, who in 1994, beat back a similar big box proposal submitted by Developer’s Diversified Realtors. This time, opponents of the Schneider plan said that if the Oakwood project were built, the existing Walmart discount store in Cleveland Heights just one mile away would be closed.
South Euclid city government was so anxious to land this project that the city updated its Comprehensive Plan, admitting it was “precipitated by a request to rezone a 41-acre portion of the Oakwood Site from residential to commercial use.” Opponents decided that it the City Council voted to rezone the property, they would take the issue to South Euclid voters on the ballot. “Oakwood is not a done deal,” they said. “This is our community.”
The local media scoffed at claims that Walmart was the likely anchor store for the project. The Sun News wrote in an editorial: “We strongly urge Schneider not to try and lure Walmart from [Cleveland Heights]—there are plenty of other national retailers that are underserved in this area to fill the shopping center.”But First Interstate would never confirm that it had a deal with Walmart, and the giant retailer, as usual, would not confirm its interest in the project either.
On November 8, 2011, Question 96 on South Euclid Rezoning came before the voters. A total of 7,723 votes were cast, with 4,272 (55%) in favor of the rezoning, and 3,451 (45%) against the big box rezoning. The developer reportedly poured as much as half a million dollars into the referendum, which is roughly $117 per vote. After the election, South Euclid City Council President David Miller, who was re-elected, and who strongly supported the Oakwood Commons project, made this remark to big box opponents: “Thank you and goodbye. Crawl back under the rock you came from.”
Within three months of the election, word began to filter out that Walmart was, in fact, the mysterious 180,000 s.f. anchor tenant in the Oakwoods Commons project. An actual rendering of the Walmart footprint was posted by a real estate company on its website, and was reposted on the Heights Observer Blog in late February. The real estate company quickly pulled the brochure down—but it was too late, the Walmart was out of the bag.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer promptly ran a story that local residents were “dismayed” that a Walmart would sit on property that once was a golf course. "A Walmart Supercenter will destroy local business and cannibalize from our local grocers, who pay a living wage, unlike Walmart," one opponent said. "In an area like ours, with declining population and income, new retail only survives by taking from existing stores."
A Walmart spokesman finally admitted to the Plain Dealer, "Our customers have told us that they want more convenient access to affordable groceries, and we think a new store at Oakwood Commons can be a part of the solution for local families. We hope to have more details to share soon." Mitchell Schneider, the owner of the property, refused however to nail it down as a Walmart. "What I can confirm to you is that we are in fact still in negotiation with Walmart (and others) and if and when we have a final, formal agreement, I will definitely provide you with an announcement."
The ugly reality is that a new Walmart at Oakwood means the Walmart less than 1 mile away at Severance Town Center in Cleveland Heights will shut down. The economic development director for Cleveland Heights did not mince his words. He told the Plain Dealer that his office had been working hard to keep the Severance Walmart alive. "It makes my stomach turn to think that after this whole rejuvenation of collaboration and communities working together, that we're going to have one big box store move five blocks away to another community," he said.
For Walmart, such hop-scotch development is standard practice. Usually the company tells local communities that a larger store will create hundreds of new jobs—but in South Euclid, Walmart admitted that because it will be shutting down an existing store nearby, the net job change would only be 85 jobs. If any of the existing grocery stores near Oakwood Commons shut down, the net job impact could very well be negative. First Interstate Properties continues to boast that the South Euclid project will create 700 jobs.WHAT YOU CAN DO
Ironically, in late January, the city of South Euclid became the 18th community in Cuyahoga County to approve an ‘anti-poaching' agreement. Under this agreement, individual communities agree not to actively pursue or encourage re-location of businesses now located in other Cuyahoga communities. The agreement also calls on cities and towns to notify one another if they learn of a company planning to relocate.
This kind of anti-pilfering agreement—had it been in place before the Oakwood Commons project—would have made it much more difficult for the South Euclid City Council to steal Cleveland Heights’ Walmart store.
But the anti-poaching compact—which is a good land use tool—is too little, too late for Cleveland Heights, and for the residents of South Euclid who are located only minutes away from an existing Walmart store at the Severance Town Center. Many homeowners will suffer a loss in property value, and suffer through traffic congestion, just to line the pockets of a large developer who ignores zoning maps, and a huge retailer which changes retail locations as casually as you or I change shoes.
The South Euclid referendum demonstrates once again that any town’s future is for sale to the highest bidder. When votes can be purchased with unbridled corporate spending, the whole concept of orderly zoning is out the window. Another example of the high cost of corporate free speech.
Readers are urged to email South Euclid Mayor Georgine Welo at: firstname.lastname@example.org
with the following message:
“Dear Mayor Welo,
Your city bent over backwards to steal revenues from Cleveland Heights as part of the Oakwood Commons project—and now you agree to a County Plan that will not allow other towns to poach your Walmart like you did to them.
The sad fact is, your city demonstrated that it was incapable of thinking about regional impacts at all—but only what goes on inside your borders. South Euclid is not an island, and your support for building another big box store less than a mile from an existing store is proof that regional planning is dead in South Euclid.
On top of that, your City Council President, in the flush of his re-election, tells voters in the region, “Crawl back under the rock you came from!” To which city voters might have been justified in responding with: “Crawl back under the Walmart you came from!”
The Cleveland Heights store will close, and one of the last major pieces of open space in your community will be lost. North East Ohio is already saturated with Walmarts, including a superstore only 8 miles away in Bedford. In return, you have Walmart’s promise of 85 new jobs—not counting those lost at other existing grocery stores.
This First Interstate fiasco brings no added value economically to your city. Retail must follow growth, not lead it. Inviting Walmart to South Euclid is like inviting the cannibals to dinner, and it is your existing merchants who are the main course on the menu. Your Administration has made the basic mistake of believing that a new building going up means jobs—while the buildings and the merchants going down as a result don’t count.
For your constituents, economic development has turned into economic dislocation. And your neighbors now know that you are willing to steal from them to pad your resume as Mayor.”
Ten months ago, Sprawl-Busters first reported the death of a Brazilian immigrant worker during a botched renovation job by an unlicensed crew inside a Walmart in Massachusetts.
Romulo de Oliveira Santos died at the age of 47 on the floor of a Walmart vision center in Walpole, Massachusetts. His muscles were charred, his skin was coagulated, and one-fifth of his body suffered second and third degree burns. There were bruises and cuts on his face, back, arms and hands. According to an autopsy, Santos had been electrocuted.
This week, the Boston Globe picked up the Santos story in its Business section, noting a similar job site injury and death at Walmart elsewhere in the country.
On the night of September 8, 2008, Santos was working as part of an inexperienced, unsupervised subcontract crew on a remodeling project at Walmart store #2103 on Providence Highway in Walpole. There was no properly licensed supervisor watching over crew members from Italo Masonries, for whom Santos worked.
Italo had never done demolition work before. Walmart hired a general contractor to oversee the reconstruction of its Vision Center, and that contractor has subbed out the interior demolition to Italo. Santos was working without licensed supervision.
In 2000, Santos came to America on a work visa to pursue a dream. He wanted to become an electronic technician. Santos enrolled in ESL classes to learn English, and began working on a cleaning crew. Santos would send some of his earnings back to the city of Volta Redonda, Brazil, where his family lived. He was 39 years old when he first entered the U.S. Eight years later, he was inside the Walpole Walmart working a late hour shift—his last.
The construction scene inside the Vision Center was a tangle of unlabeled wires and cords. Walmart had insisted that the remodeling job would proceed while the store remained open. On Santos' last night, the general contractor, electrical contractor, and Italo Masonry all left no supervisors at the site. But several light circuits were left on, because the renovations could be done quicker and easier by leaving the area "hot."
One junction box at the top of a wall was left "hot." Santos arrived at the site just before 10:30 pm—a time when most Walmart shoppers were home in bed. Santos and his coworkers were not warned that a 227-volt circuit powering the overhead lights in the Vision Center had been left live. Santos had no reason to expect that wires behind the walls were hot. It was normal practice that live wires would be clearly marked and labeled, to avoid lethal danger.
One of Santos' coworkers began tearing down a wall that had been marked for demolition. The crew member, wielding a reciprocating saw, cut through the live wire at the top of the wall. The lights went out, leaving the whole crew in the darkened Vision Center. The crew began to exit the site, when Santos came in contact with the live wire.
According to witnesses at the scene, Santos moaned in pain, and fell to the floor in between a scissors lift and the wall. A crew member rushed to his side, but Santos died within minutes—badly burned from the trauma.
The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued Walmart an immediate stop work order, and listed numerous violations of federal safety regulations. "Workers were exposed to hazards of arc-flash and arc blast while working on energized parts of the circuit breaker panels without proper personal protective equipment," OSHA wrote. "Employees were exposed to electric shock hazards while performing . . . tasks without de-energizing the circuits."
Attorney Brian A. Joyce of the Joyce Law Group, the firm that is handling a civil lawsuit against Walmart on behalf of the Santos family, says that Romulo's death could have been avoided if Walmart had held its general contractor to its contractual obligation to permit only properly licensed and qualified subcontractors to demolish the Vision Center. Joyce notes that the general contractor has a rap sheet with OSHA for hiring unlicensed contractors.
"Walmart's callous indifference to the safety of construction workers at the Walpole store is not an isolated incident," Joyce told Sprawl-Busters. Similar construction-related deaths have occurred in Texas, Nebraska, and Indiana. OSHA has cited Walmart in numerous other cases for its negligence in protecting workers.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
"In its ruthless quest to cut prices and maximize profits," Joyce charges, "Walmart allows cutting corners, especially when it comes to safety, and is willing to risk the lives of construction workers to save on costs. When the sadly predictable accidents occur, Walmart remorselessly opposes attempts by the surviving family members to discover what happened, and to seek justice for their lost loved ones."
The family of Romulo de Oliveira Santos has waited for almost three and a half years to see justice done in this case. The sudden death of their son who traveled to America was tragic enough—but Walmart's response since the accident has made the family's ordeal even harder to accept. On February 14, 2011, the Boston law firm hired by Walmart acknowledged in a letter to the Joyce law firm that "an offer of $25,000 was made" to the Santos family by the retailer and its general contractor as compensation for Santos' death. That was one year ago. There has been no movement by Walmart since then.
Attorney Joyce says Walmart's financial offer is a slap in the face to the Santos family: "If Mr. Santos—who was in excellent health when this tragedy occurred—had worked until his retirement age, he could have had another $1 million in salary alone. Apparently $25,000 is the value that Walmart puts on this man's life."
An everyday low price for a life—from the company that made its fortune on cheap imported products—like the labor of Romulo de Oliveira Santos.
Readers are urged to call Walmart customer service at 1-800-WALMART to leave the following message: "I'm calling to urge Walmart to settle the case of the subcontracted worker who was electrocuted in your Walpole, Massachusetts store. Your company should pay the family of Mr. Santos a sum that fairly represents the lost wages and benefits Santos would have earned had he not made the mistake of working at Walmart in unsafe conditions."
News that Walmart soon will be removing its "people greeters" from the mouth of every store across America was ironic given how hard it was for Sam Walton to get them there in the first place.
According to Tom Coughlin, Walmart's former COO and Vice Chairman of the Board [who defrauded his company and pled guilty in 2007 to six felony counts of wire fraud and filing false tax returns] Walton had to "throw fits" for a year and a half before greeters were accepted.
"Sam just kept pushing and pushing and pushing," Coughlin wrote in Made in America, Walton's 1992 autobiography. "Every week, every meeting, he'd talk about greeters...Gradually he wore everybody down and got his way."
Walton apparently stumbled onto a greeter at a small Walmart in Louisiana in 1980. The greeter, who Couglin called an"older gentleman," explained to Walton that he had a "dual purpose: to make people feel good about coming in, and to make sure people weren't walking back out the entrance with merchandise they hadn't paid for."
The manager of that Louisiana Walmart was trying to reduce shrinkage at the store—shop-lifting. "He didn't want to intimidate the honest customers by posting a guard at the door, but he wanted to leave a clear message that if you came in and stole, someone was there who would see it."
Apparently Walton was smitten with the double-agent role of the greeter: the 'hello' coming in, the 'cop' going out. "Sam thought that was the greatest idea he'd ever heard of." Coughlin remembers. He claims Mr. Sam was vindicated years later when he walked into a Kmart and was welcomed by a people greeter. Now many major retailers post these comedian cops near the front entrance.
Sam Walton himself did not talk much publicly about the cop side of the greeters. In his book. Walton noted that "some of our people greeters...use their high profile positions to have a little fun." Like the greeter in Huntsville, Arkansas who used to dress up in costumes for local folk holidays like Hawgfest. Walton described the greeter as an example of how his company liked to "thrive on a lot of the traditions of small town America, especially parades with marching bands, cheerleaders, drill teams and floats." And Greeters.
But now the fun is over. Sam Walton's "greatest idea" is dead—apparently a victim of the recession—several thousand greeters are coming in from the cold, to circulate around the store, helping customers find cheap Chinese underwear, and other useful functions.
Thus ends the 32 year run of the Greeter. Like most concepts at Walmart, the Greeter was not what it appeared to be on the surface. Most shoppers at Walmart understood that the smiley folks in the vest with "How May I Help You?" on the back were just disguised members of the loss prevention team at Walmart—a reminder that cheap goods not only attract shoppers, they attract criminals as well.
If, as Tom Coughlin says, Sam Walton wanted to use greeters to send "a warm, friendly message to the good customer," it didn't work. Walmart has been called many things over the years, but "warm and friendly" is not one of them. It's impossible to make a 200,000 square foot superstore with concrete floors "warm and friendly." The Greeter was a contrived, awkward position—a stand-up comedian at a sliding glass door.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
If Walmart wants to convince the public that it is an inviting place to shop, it can begin by treating its own workers better. Every time Walmart "associates" get their pay check, they are reminded what a disappointing experience it is to put on a Walmart vest.
Happier employees would truly brighten up the store like no greeter ever could. No need for marching bands or drill teams. Walmart workers need to be greeted with a bigger paycheck—enough to keep their family off food stamps and Medicaid.
Knowing that Walmart cares more about the people who do its work, would go a long way towards making people "feel good about coming in."
Coughlin admits that when Sam Walton first tried to push the people greeters idea, "a lot of people thought he'd lost his mind." Looking back, those people were probably right.
Readers are urged to call Walmart Customer Service at 1-800-WALMART with the following message: "Instead of having someone smile at me when I enter your store, how about cheering up your workers by giving them more take home pay. Better paid workers might brighten up the whole store experience."
Walmart Canada has run into aggressive opposition right in the town that serves as its headquarters in Mississauga, Ontario. The following site fight report was sent to Sprawl-Busters by activists who are battling a Walmart developer in their community:
Several south Mississauga ratepayers’ groups say they'll be out in force on Wednesday night (February 1st) at an open house regarding a controversial development planned for Lakeview.
The plan by Trinity Developments, which owns 14.5 acres of land at the northeast corner of Lakeshore Rd. E. and Enola Ave., is to open either a Walmart or a Target as part of a phased, mixed-use development. Trinity has yet to file a formal application with the City of Mississauga regarding the development.
Trinity will host the open house at 501 Lakeshore Rd. E., Unit A-10, from 6-9 p.m.
Several community groups, among them the Lakeview Ratepayers' Association (LRA), Town of Port Credit Association (TOPCA) and Citizens for a Livable Lakeshore (CALL)—newly-launched to fight the development—are crying foul over the timing of the meeting. LRA president Scott Kletke said they were given only a week’s notice, and he’s not expecting much to come out of the event.
“They are going to show us pretty pictures of parents holding kids’ hands and shopping in familial bliss. It will look compelling, even attractive, but remember that the difference between our vision and theirs is that the big-box mega-store will kill our retail community and shatter the dream of real Main Street mom-and-pop community-level retail,” he said.
TOPCA and the Mississauga Residents’ Associations Network (MIRANET) spokesperson Dorothy Tomiuk said she found it “curious” the open house was called for the same night as MIRANET’s long-scheduled and publicized annual general meeting. Ratepayers’ representatives at MIRANET, she said, will now be forced to make alternate arrangements. Still, Tomiuk, who’s doing an e-mail blast to help get the word out, is confident ratepayers will be well represented. “We’ll find a way to make sure some executives will be there to make our concerns known,” she said.
The open house will consist of a 15-minute presentation by Trinity staff and experts will be available for one-on-one discussion. It’s unclear whether there will be an open question-and-answer session.
CALL, whose mandate “is to give voice to the citizens of Lakeview and Port Credit who feel that a large-format retail store does not fit the community’s long-standing plan for revitalization”—as its first public action—is organizing a two-kilometre protest march. It starts at 5:45 p.m. and proceeds from the Port Credit Lighthouse (105 Lakeshore Rd. W.) to the open house location.
“This project ignores the ground-breaking and award-winning Lakeview Legacy Project and tries to bypass years of citizen participation and good City planning,” said CALL spokesperson Jen McAneney. Despite vociferous community opposition, Trinity says it's committed to an improved Lakeview.
“We are proposing to redevelop an underutilized site, which currently provides little economic activity, in an entirely asphalt setting, into a site that supports and invests in the region’s continued renaissance,” Trinity said in a statement last week announcing the open house.WHAT YOU CAN DO
These kinds of “open house” events by the developer gives opponents a chance to turn the event into their open house, by flooding the event with people against the plan, each one wearing a bright sticker on their lapel, “Sink the Lakeview Big Box.”
According to the developer, Trinity's portfolio currently exceeds 14,000,000 square feet in size. An additional 8,700,000 square feet has been developed and sold by the company. Trinity currently has fifteen large format and four community shopping centers under various stages of planning, development and construction. In addition, the company is developing four urban mixed-use centers totaling over 1.2 million square feet.
Trinity claims that this massive development will create 600 full and part time jobs, and $3.25 million in taxes. These numbers are gross figures, and do not net out the jobs and taxes that will be lost at smaller retailers in the trade area. This project includes at least 7 retail buildings, the largest being 97,828 square feet. It also includes 290 residential units in a 20 story high rise, and enough parking for just over 1,000 cars.
Readers who want to help the residents of Mississauga are urged to email Mississauga's Mayor, Hazel McCallion, at email@example.com
with the following message:
“Dear Mayor McCallion,
Good land use planning begins with neighborhood buy-in. Your massive mixed use project in Mississauga has drawn considerable fire from the people who already live there—some direct residential abutters.
This project is much too intense for the surrounding area, and is incompatible with its neighbors. Instead of pursuing a win/lose scenario, it’s time to sit down with neighbors and ask them what they really want for a neighbor, and what they mean by a ‘renaissance’ for the area."
To contact the citizen’s group CALL, email: firstname.lastname@example.org