Plan would rein in ‘mega-retail’ in Redlands
Jesse B. Gill, Staff Writer
Posted: 05/02/2010 02:55:49 PM PDT

REDLANDS – Measure O proponents say it could help protect Redlands’ small businesses. But opponents say the businesses have nothing to fear from a Wal-Mart expansion.

Measure O will appear on the June 8 ballot. If passed, the legislation would derail plans to build a Wal-Mart Supercenter in north Redlands. It would also limit how “mega-retail” stores could build in the city.

The Redlands Good Neighbor Coalition drafted Measure O to protect many quality-of- life issues, said spokesman Keith Osajima. And the impact the supercenter could have on small businesses is a chief concern.

“Our worry is that it’s difficult enough (for small businesses) to survive, and this just adds to that pressure,” he said.

The group says Redlands’ small businesses could be in danger if Wal-Mart is able to expand into a supercenter. The model, which is designed to allow customers to buy just about everything they’d need at one location, may seem attractive to customers but could be devastating to small local business, he said.

“The fear is that because the Wal-Mart Supercenter will try to sell everything, it will draw customers away from small businesses in Redlands that may specialize in some things,” Osajima said.

If shoppers are forsaking smaller retailers in town for Wal-Mart, he said, the sales-tax revenue numbers the store generates would come on the backs of Redlands’ small businesses.

Redlands Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Kathie Thurston said WalMart’s effect on small business was felt long ago as the company put down roots in town nearly 20 years ago.

“This is not a new business,” she said. “It is an existing business trying to expand.”

Osajima said the sheer size of the proposed supercenter – 215,000 square feet – qualifies it as a new threat to small business.

“It’s an expansion into groceries, it’s an expansion of the sales-floor area so that the combination will represent a new set of economic pressures on small businesses,” he said.

Mick Gallagher, a council member and small-business owner, said lower prices result in savings for the consumer. Those savings are often taken and spent on goods in other stores in town.

Wal-Mart prepared a study in 2008 that found the first of its 21 California stores to add grocery sales had positive impacts on local sales-tax revenue and business-permit filings in their respective cities.

“We are very confident that our impact creates a synergy of retail,” said Wal-Mart spokesman Aaron Rios.

The consumer benefits most when a Wal-Mart Supercenter comes to town, Rios said. The retailer’s low prices often cause other retailers and grocers to lower their own prices in competition.

“Whether you shop at a WalMart or not, you save,” he said.

Gallagher agreed, saying competition among businesses breeds more competition that often results in a win for the citizens.

“The direct result (of WalMart competing with small businesses) is that they will have to build something better or they will have to do something better than (small businesses) do just to compete,” he said. “If (Wal-Mart) is going to compete with the grocery stores, they’re going to have to carry other things than they are carrying now.”

And customers, he said, get a wider range of products and lower prices as a result of the competition.

And Wal-Mart’s own researchers found that grocery stores do more business after a Wal-Mart Supercenter opens nearby, Rios said.

Gallagher, who owns a jewelry engraving business on Brookside Avenue, said he doesn’t compete directly with Wal-Mart for business, but if he did, the retailer wouldn’t stand a chance.

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