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Al Norman, founder of an organization called Sprawl-Busters that targets Wal-Mart and other big box stores for being detrimental to the health of smaller communities, had an interesting piece in The Huffington Post over the weekend in which he wrote:

“According to a list released this week, Wal-Mart Stores has abandoned a record shattering 45 proposed projects over the past 10 months---often leaving local officials dejected and confused. Another 19 Wal-Mart projects have been killed by local citizen's groups. In total, the world's largest retailer has suffered an historic loss of 64 projects. The list of store cancellations was compiled by Sprawl-Busters, which has maintained a database on Wal-Mart battles for more than a decade.

“Since June, 2007, the Arkansas-based retailer has delayed or killed its own stores in the following communities:

Aledo, IL; Arlington, WA; Belfast, ME; Bonita Springs, FL; Brooksville, FL; Chico, CA; Concord, CA; Crowley, TX; Derry, NH; Elyria, OH; Fircrest, WA; Garden Grove, CA; Gilbert, AZ; Glen Carbon, IL; Hadley, MA; Hemet, CA; Hilo, HI; Isle of Wight, VA; Knightdale, NC; Lake County, FL; Lakeland, FL; Lawrence, NJ; Lewiston, ME; Liberty, OH; Pennfield, MI; Hillsborough, NH; Kilbuck, PA; La Puenta, CA; Marietta, GA; Marysville, WA; Memphis, TN; Morganton, NC; Neptune Beach, FL; Oakley, CA; Oxford, NC; Portland, OR; Raleigh, NC; Ravalli County, MT; Rutland Charter, MI; Spooner, WI; St. Peters, MO; Sioux Falls, SD; Stoughton, WI; Sunrise, FL; Waukesha, WI.

“These store withdrawals usually come with little advance notice, and even less explanation. In September, 2007, for example, when Wal-Mart suddenly folded its tent in Lancaster, Massachusetts---3 miles from the construction site of another Wal-Mart superstore---the company issued a terse, four paragraph press release which stated, "The decision is related to Wal-Mart's recently announced plans to moderate growth of U.S. supercenters as part of leveraging capital resources through a strategy designed to improve returns and sales within U.S. stores." Such dense statements left local officials scratching their heads in disbelief--sometimes following months, even years, of lobbying by the retailer to get a project approved.”

Norman suggests that these cancellations are concrete evidence that Wal-Mart is doing what it said it would – show down its US new store opening schedule in order to maximize return on investment and build stronger same-store sales increases.

However, he also writes that “Wal-Mart has paid a price for competing with itself. Today, the saturation card has been overplayed, and the retailer has been forced to go on a superstore crash diet. While hundreds of sling-shot coalitions have been hurling rocks at this retail Goliath for years, ironically, it is now the giant itself which is reeling from its own self inflicted excesses.

“This has created a wonderful 10 months for anti-Wal-Mart groups in 21 states, who have woken up in their small towns to read that another proposed Wal-Mart superstore has dissolved, as suddenly as the morning mist.”

KC's View:
I wouldn’t be so sanguine if I were Al Norman. Wal-Mart may be taking a breath, but that doesn’t mean it is any less dangerous. A Wal-Mart that has better same-store sales, that does not cannibalize its own stores, and that embarks on a more measured growth strategy – using, by the way, a variety of different formats (such as the new, small-store format that it plans to debut in Arizona later this year) strikes me as a company that potentially could be even more dominant.