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Friday, September 01, 2006

The Disease of Big-Box Retail

Big-Box retail is like a disease. Like most diseases, it has symptoms that appear in a predictable progression after initial contraction. A town that has been newly exposed to Big Box can expect a marked diversion of consumer dollars and traffic followed by store closings. This effect will snowball as more Big Box arrives near the initial exposure site and vacancies spread through other retail centers like cancer. The entire economy then suffers as money once spent and reinvested locally is funneled off to Minnesota or Arkansas. The final stage of the disease is a blighted downtown, vacant neighborhood centers and total dependence on the Big Box for goods. This is the pattern that has played out in every small city that has allowed Big Box in. It is folly to think that Davis will be any different.

If Measure K passes the Big Box process will begin here. At 2.4 football fields in the Target store alone, this project will vastly change the scale of Davis retail. The current limit on retail is 30,000 square feet; this Target is 137.000. No existing business can compete on that scale and any future retail project will have to be able to match this new standard. Once the general plan restriction is discarded and the zoning is amended to allow this Big Box, there will be nothing to stop more Big Boxes from locating in Davis. The rest of the 72 available acres along 2nd Street will be bid on by the only businesses that can locate and compete next to Big Box: more Big Box. Sam’s Club joined the Davis Chamber of Commerce the same time Target did. Big Box begets Big Box. If you doubt the inevitable progression, ask yourself: Have you ever seen a Target store surrounded by idyllic fields and quiet grassland?

Just the huge Target will cause local business to close. With a massive expansion of the Target in Woodland, a new Target planned for West Sac and the Super Wal-Mart in Dixon, there is no reason for people in the outlying communities to come to a Davis Target. This Big Box will draw its expected $60 million annual sales almost entirely from Davis. Some of these sales will be from Davisites who previously went to out of town Targets, but you can bet that Target Corporation isn’t going to build here to get sales they are already getting in Woodland. So the majority of this Target’s sales will be diverted from existing Davis businesses. That is the only purpose to a store like this.

Let’s be generous and assume that only half of the Target’s sales will be diverted from existing businesses. This really is conservative; people aren’t going to have any more money to spend just because Target is here. But half of their sales is still $30 million per year! Many Davis shops cannot survive such a loss, even spread out, as it would be, all over town. Large groceries and pharmacies operate on small margins and count on much traffic. This Big Box center expects 10,000 car trips per day. That traffic also has to come from somewhere. One stop shopping is the Big Box motto, and it means that consumers don’t go anywhere else! With thousands of customers a day and millions of dollars a year being diverted, it is a certainty that local stores will begin closing soon after this Big Box opens. And the damage will increase geometrically with each new Big Box opening.

Once the retail outlets that Big Box competes with directly begin closing, other businesses will follow suit. The restaurant with vacant storefronts around it will not last long. After the anchor stores close in the neighborhood centers, the small shops will have to follow. Even the professionals will suffer as their small business clients go out of business. This progression will combine with the acceleration of more Big Box to cause eventual but inevitable blight. And once blight occurs, it is irreversible. Berkeley is hemorrhaging money trying to cure the symptoms of Big Box on Telegraph, to no avail. Once the Big Box disease is in its final stages of a blighted downtown and permanently vacant shopping centers, everything the city hoped to gain is lost. The taxes, jobs and convenience are all gone as the cumulative sales tax, employees and convenience once found in the closed businesses vastly exceeds that created by the Big Boxes. This is not a Chicken Little prediction; it has happened in every small town across America that has allowed Big Box retail on its outskirts. Go to downtown Woodland, Fairfield or Vacaville to remember why you live in Davis and why we don’t want Big Box here.

Cities everywhere are resisting Big Box because they see the damage it does to their communities. For 20 years Davis’ leadership had the foresight to block Big Box proposals. Now it is up to us citizens. The negative effects of Big Box are documented facts. Big Box is a disease for which prevention is the only cure. Preserve our community. Vote NO on K.

---Dan Urazandi, guest commentator

Dan Urazandi owns "Bizarro World" in Davis and is a member of the group opposing Target coming to Davis, "Don't Big-Box Davis"