Why Wal-Mart and Corvallis will never meet

Illustration by RR Anderson

In a small town of Arlington, WA, Wal-Mart has gone viral. There is a Wal-Mart within five minutes from the town and another store 15 minutes away. Even worse, there is a Wal-Mart ten minutes in the other direction north of the town as well. The grand finale of all of this is that Wal-Mart makes enough money and gets enough business that they can afford to have all of the locations open and make large profits. The benefit of a town like Corvallis is that we aren’t exposed to such viral takeovers. Corvallis is based on small businesses and collaboration.

Wal-Mart type stores are considered “big box” retailers. Unlike other cities that want to promote growth, Corvallis has chosen to implement development laws to avoid large business growth. Legally, the city cannot say “no we don’t want you here,” however they can create zoning laws that make it unrealistic for large retailers to move to the town.

The current land development codes state that businesses are only allowed one parking space per every 400 square feet of business building space. Large retailers, such as Wal-Mart, desire four parking spaces per 1000 square feet of business floor space which ends up being just under double what the codes state is allowed. This dilemma deters retailers from coming to the city, because they feel that they would not be able to accommodate the large amount of customers shopping at the location

Furthermore, in 2006, a development code was into place that states a retail store in the Mixed-Use Community Shopping Zone is only allotted 15,000 square feet of building space whereas stores in the Central Business Zone do not have such limitations. Limiting the space of the building in result ends up limiting the amount of products they have the ability to sell, hence keeping small businesses safe.

The benefit of these zoning codes is that it promotes local entrepreneurs and small business growth. Without large chain retailers, Corvallis provides an opportunity for new businesses to emerge and specialize in various unique products. In large cities such as Portland, it is harder for small businesses to make a name for themselves as citizens tend to go to large retailers for their needs because of the “one stop shopping” convenience.

Now let’s think about if Wal-Mart was built in Corvallis. Wal-Mart sells clothing, groceries, home and garden, furniture, jewelry, outdoors products, and even lumber at some locations. If Wal-Mart were to make a home out of Corvallis most of the small businesses would be threatened. The Clothes Tree, Second Glance, and Sibling Revelry would all be in competition for business with Wal-Mart because of the cheaper prices that Wal-Mart offers their clothing for. Furthermore, the furniture stores such as Blackledge Furniture and The Inkwell Home Store would be giving up customers as well to the cheaper prices of products at Wal-Mart. Of course, they are all very different markets; the Inkwell sells unique products of quality that Wal-Mart cannot offer which makes the customer base different. However, currently the customer base includes college students who are on budgets, so if Wal-Mart were to come to Corvallis, the college student population would jump right on over to the cheaper prices.

It has already become very evident to Corvallis what an impact “big box” retailers have on the city. When Borders went under, local books stores such as Grassroots Book Store and Book Bin gained business because they were now the only options for book purchasing in the town. It became obvious that Borders had been taking business from these local entrepreneurs that could be essential for growth.

Now clearly Fred Meyer, Staples, and Office Max are considered “big box” retailers and they are still in Corvallis. Well, they arrived before the codes were put into place. Putting the codes into effect came after those businesses had already moved into the city and the city decided it would best to limit the amount of “big box” retailers moving to Corvallis.

So the message here is that “big box” retailers are not beneficial for Corvallis.  We would only be providing ourselves with products of less quality and a loss of community all for what – a cheap t-shirt or cheap bottle of shampoo? Spend the extra cash and buy locally to promote the town of Corvallis.


By Cristina Himka