HIS VIEW: CLUE study reveals little room for new retail

by Christopher Lupke
Published: 06-16-2006

A recent study by the Community Land Use and Economics group of "retail sales demand" was commissioned by the Moscow-based community group "NoSuperWalMart." The Pullman Alliance for Responsible Development, which opposes the proposed massive Wal-Mart Supercenter in Pullman, was not aware of the study before the fact, but we have carefully read the report and its conclusions. The study reveals that "as a whole, the Moscow/Pullman area is adequately supplied with retail space." In other words, after a survey of both the Moscow/Pullman economies and those in Lewiston and Clarkston, the C.L.U.E. study found that there is little room for additional retail space in either Moscow or Pullman. In fact, such expansion could have a devastating impact on businesses already located here.

This study bears out the fact that residents of the Moscow-Pullman community will not suddenly have more money to spend when a new store arrives. The money spent in such a new store will largely come out of the flesh of businesses already here - supermarkets and local businesses. Given the history of Wal-Mart's impact on communities like our own, this new super center will spell the end for many such establishments.

Did the study find there is leakage of retail sales from Pullman to Moscow? Yes. Of course there is. But will a Wal-Mart alleviate that leakage? The answer to that is no. According to the study, the best way to keep shoppers in Pullman and, crucially, attract shoppers from Moscow and other nearby communities, is for Pullman to "differentiate itself" from its neighbors, to offer shopping and dining opportunities not already available in our area. Wal-Mart cannot do that. No one in Moscow would drive an extra eight miles for something they can already get at their existing Wal-Mart.

An example of a business that most Pullman shoppers would welcome and could attract other shoppers while creating viable jobs is Costco. The C.L.U.E. study shows that per capita retail sales in the entire Quad Cities region are by far highest in Clarkston. At $21,500 per capita, their sales are higher than Lewiston and nearly double Moscow. Why is that? Because Clarkston is home to the region's only Costco. Making a living wage, as Costco employees do, means one is better able to contribute back to the community through individual expenditures.

Wal-Mart's reputation for subsidizing itself with taxpayer-funded programs for the working poor is a well-documented fact, not innuendo. >From a business perspective, it makes no sense for Pullman to court Wal-Mart.

All businesses have an equal right to apply for permits to locate in Pullman. PARD believes the Wal-Mart proposal violates city code and state law, and hopes that at the appeal hearing Judge Frazier will agree. If not, it will be a sure sign that we need to strengthen our laws to give the community greater voice in how our town develops. No one is singling out Wal-Mart. They single themselves out by engaging in harmful business practices that drive down wages for all American workers and diminish local tax bases by wiping out existing businesses. In the case of Pullman, they have been deaf to the concerns of thousands of residents and have ignored serious traffic and safety issues.

Wal-Mart and its surrogates have tried to pit Pullman and Moscow against each other in a "divide and conquer strategy" arguing a dollar spent in Pullman would have the "added benefit" of not going to Moscow. That destructive scheme conceals the ultimate reason why many people come to live here in the first place and, indeed, why these two towns have flourished side by side for a century:

Pullman and Moscow profit from each other's existence. We should be thinking of ways in which growth in Pullman also can benefit Moscow and vice versa, just as our two universities help make each other great. To that end, we should develop a regional plan for retail growth that attracts Moscow residents to Pullman not because we wish to replicate them but, as the C.L.U.E. study concludes, because we are adding new and unique "products and services not currently available within the region."

Christopher Lupke is associate professor of Chinese at Washington State University and active in the Pullman Alliance for Responsible Development.
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