Placebook: Here’s to Being a Walmart Town

Walmart store in Chicago's West Loop by Flickr user Ifmuth

Walmart store in Chicago’s West Loop by Flickr user Ifmuth

Yes, Joe the Trader is still my friend. Why? Because he has good cookies.

My silliness notwithstanding, the decision made yesterday by Trader Joe’s to not invest in Greensboro for the second time is not surprising. Honestly, it’s not the politics that I feel drove them away. It’s the inability to take risks. Stores like that, you know, the ones that have cheapish stuff, but a somewhat upscale atmosphere, I believe are only taking advantage of what they think youth or boomers with disposable income or some other magical unicorn person will buy and will buy repeatedly. Unfortunately, magical unicorns tend to not have strong political views or bank accounts that hover around or appear to hover around zero. Stores that don’t take risks don’t like cleaning up old parking lots or making sure even the folks who carry EBT cards have the opportunity to have shiny electronics or even just basic food items.

Walmart, however, goes directly after that market. We talk about the exploitation that they do, but there’s a degree of exploitation in the pretty but cheap store market too. They exploit the emotions of those of us who make just enough to spend at least $50-100 at Target each month, 60% of the cart being non-food items that may or may not be adult toys or pure junk. They make us feel better as a town when they show up promising more Salted Caramel Chocolate cookies for cheap. They allow us to buy more clothes, even though those clothes fall apart at the end of the season.

But back to Walmart. Not only have they gone into the High Point Road area and thrived, they are now going into Quaker Village, the one place many of us privately wanted Trader Joes to go, had they been willing to spend the funds to revamp the shopping center like the Walmart. But Walmart is the world’s largest retailer, so if it fails, then it’s no big deal. These other retailers, they aren’t as big as we think. Ask Harris Teeter. Yes, the bigwigs got golden parachutes in their deal with Kroger, but everyone else and the name itself took a hit. If it weren’t for Kroger understanding the impact of the name on the market, then there’s just one more “luxury” name gone away.

I think the lesson learned here is that sometimes, it doesn’t matter what your name is or what your perception is as a store. At the end of the day, it’s all about the bottom line, customers are just props to be lured in like the Pied Piper, with colorful patterned displays and cheap wine.

Just my two cents. After the word from our sponsors, other news:

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News from North Carolina

The Greensboro City Council has approved an operating agreement for the performing arts center, allowing the project to move forward.

How the ban on electronic devices at the Guilford County Courthouse is working, one month into the new regulation.

A profile of Bounce U, one of the successful businesses at Quaker Village being replaced by the new Walmart.

A newly formed committee in Wilmington will debate which road projects are worthy for a proposed $250 million dollar bond referendum.

Charlotte police are trying a more holistic and caring approach to the homeless community in the Uptown area. Additionally, several Charlotte businesses are still accepting Bitcoins.

Winston-Salem home prices are rising.

Raleigh City Council has officially started having lunchtime meetings. They are only work sessions though and not visible or open to the public.

This conversation is really about the media climate in the RTP area, but it’s really an oral history of RTP in the last ten years by a Durham native.

Buncombe County Commissioners have approved funding for the next iteration of Asheville Moogfest.

Asheville will fix the sidewalks in front of their Trader Joes and a new Harris Teeter.

Prompted by the Seeking Safety series by the Fayetteville Observer, the City of Fayetteville is cleaning up problematic properties.

News and Lessons from Elsewhere

Could Las Vegas reinvent car ownership?

Can Philly successfully combat gentrification with tax rate changes? Governing‘s analysis of the issue takes it beyond black and white. A perspective on it from a San Francisco fair housing leader.

Where it’s the hardest for the poor to make rent. These are the most expensive cities in the world (and NYC is not one of them).

Nashville really, really doesn’t want bus rapid transit.

Why Sweeden has fewer road deaths.

A reflection as Ross Capon steps down from running the National Association for Railroad Passengers.

What Walmart does when it commits to building urban.

And finally, do you agree that these are the things you learn from growing up in the South?

About Kristen Jeffers

I'm Kristen. Almost five years ago, I got tired of not seeing black women as nerded out about trains, better streets, riding bikes, walking not just out of necessity, tall buildings, old buildings and honestly a lot of other things. I was in grad school for community and economic development (ok, it’s actually an MPA), and I wanted to make sure people knew I existed and that I could help them do this thing called placemaking better. Five years later, I’m still doing that, although not from my hometown of Greensboro, NC, but from Kansas City, MO. I spend most of my time in Kansas City promoting better biking and walking infrastructure metro-wide with BikeWalk KC and the Kansas City B-cycle. But I also wrote a book A Black Urbanist (you can grab that over on the right) and sometimes I give speeches and help other communities tell their stories at design charrettes and public meetings. I’ve also written or appeared in all of the major “urbanist” publications, either as a subject or as a writer, as well as most of my hometown papers as subject or writer as well.