Back in 2004 when Walmart stores announced its intention of building a super center in Blythe, California, it met with mixed reviews. Many regular and snowbird Quartzsite folks rejoiced--no long drives to Yuma or Lake Havasu City to buy groceries and other necessities. No longer would some suffer would they described as the "highway robbery" of some notable Blythe merchants.
At the same time, not everyone rejoiced. This scribe was in line at the local Albertson's store when the man ahead of me in line told the clerk he was looking forward to the time when old Joe's store would have some competition from Sam's folks. The immediate red-faced reaction of the clerk was plainly obvious--he would have tossed the customer out on his ear, had he the chance.
Blythe town fathers soon found themselves the target of two lawsuits from organizations whose members were kept anonymous. Both groups were determined to keep "Wally" from coming to town. Walmart agreed to handle the cost of litigation, and kept moving forward on its plans to build. One local government employee kept us posted on progress, and assurances were given that despite the opposition, Walmart was determined to be a part of the Blythe community. That is, until last month.
In February word was out that Walmart management had decided to pull the plug on the Blythe project. We were able do interview Walmart spokesman John Mendez to ask about the corporation's decision to wipe the Blythe project off the slate. How did management feel about the work of local government officials in helping Walmart get a foothold? What about the "opposition" that manifested itself so vigorously?
Regarding Blythe town officials, Mendez had nothing but praise. "
Blythe has been a very good city to work with," he told us. "The staff has been very professional and helpful though the process." Lest any think that somehow the town was 'down on Walmart,' he added, "No way is our decision based on what the city has done."
So what was the problem? "The fact is, the economy is changing--the whole landscape is changing. It just doesn't make sense for us--at this time--to go forward with a new store there." Mendez said the company had not ruled out Blythe for a store in the future.
And as to opposition--both known and 'cloaked in the anonymity of a lawsuit--Mendez had this to say, "[Walmart's] focus is on finding where it makes sense that we can better serve our customers. What happens out of our sphere of influence we don't spend much time worrying about."
Net result? Walmart continues to work on a new project--this one in nearby Parker, Arizona. While it may be an additional 15 mile drive for Quartzsiters to get to Parker than to Blythe, you can be sure the money will flow there. If the "big city merchants" of Blythe figure they've 'cut a fat hog' by saying "Adios" to Walmart, then their calculators need new batteries. When the Parker Walmart opens its doors, its a sure bet that hundreds of folks from Quartzsite will make the trip to Parker. While Walmart may have "stolen" business from some merchants in Blythe, others who fill a niche that Walmart doesn't serve will likely see their business head north, too. Walmart's pullout is a loss for Blythe all the way around.Photo: In part, Brave New Films on flickr.com
Labels: Albertsons, Blythe, Parker, Walmart