Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Pullman 2020

The City of Pullman’s Comprehensive Plan states that by the year 2020, Pullman community members hope to be able to say that:
Our city is self-sufficient with regard to its commercial services. Community residents can meet all of their needs for goods and services from Pullman businesses. Residents take advantage of this and purchase products within the community whenever possible.
With 15 years to go, however, the same problems mentioned in the Comprehensive Plan back in 1999 apply today:
The neighboring city of Moscow has, for some time, captured the bulk of the retail trade in the Palouse region. Many in the Pullman community would appreciate a better balance between the two cities with regard to shopping and entertainment opportunities.
The Pullman Alliance for Responsible Development just doesn’t seem to get this. They continue to see Pullman and Moscow as some sort of amorphous entity, even though we are in different states, have different needs, and don’t share tax revenues. This was evidenced by a letter in the Moscow-Pullman Daily News from PARD member Cynthia Hosick:
No please. No Wal-Mart superstore in Pullman, especially on Bishop Boulevard. We have two fine grocery stores already. Which one, like Tidyman's, will be put out of business? We already have a big discount store. Will ShopKo be ousted? Where is this marketing plan coming from? Two Wal-Marts, a ShopKo and six grocery stores for a total Pullman-Moscow population of less than 50,000?
PARD's posiiton paper states the following:
While we understand some people in Pullman who think it only fair turnabout to gain sales at the expense of Moscow, for a number of reasons that is highly unlikely to happen. Moreover, at a time when the Pullman and Moscow governments are seeking to cooperate on a number of projects, including responsible development of the Route 270 corridor, this is no time for store wars to ruin good will.
And even more love was shown for Moscow on Al Norman's Sprawl Busters site (where through a funny Freudian slip, Pullman was listed as being in Idaho and Moscow in Washington!):
Further, this issue is not an isolated "Pullman problem." It represents a serious impact to the city of Moscow, Idaho as well. Moscow, a short eight miles away, already has a Wal-Mart which is sure to close shortly after the Wal-Mart Superstore is opened, thus increasing unemployment in the area."
That's great. Let's keep letting Moscow poach our tax revenue because we don't want to offend or hurt anyone in Moscow. This is the PULLMAN Alliance for Responsible Development, right? No wonder they have obtained so many petition signatures over there. In fact, about half of WSU employees live outside of Pullman as it is. Perhaps the PARD members should just move to Moscow. I understand Moscow is now considering a moratorium on big box stores. Plus, if the Moscow Wal-Mart is closed as PARD predicts, they'll be that much happier.

While entertainment opportunities have increased in Pullman (multiplex theatre, bowling alley, etc.), no major retail stores have opened in the last 10 years (Shopko). The latest available numbers (FY 2002) from the Department of Revenue's Quarterly Business Review show Pullman as having $13,221,289 of taxable sales in SIC Group 53. This group includes retail stores which sell a number of lines of merchandise, such as dry goods, apparel and accessories, furniture and home furnishings, small wares, hardware, and food. The stores included in this group are known by such names as department stores, variety stores, general merchandise stores, and general stores. That breaks down to $510.38 of taxable general retail sales per resident per year. That is an extraordinarily low number and demonstrates the “sales leakage” caused by a significant amount of local residents’ purchases being made outside of the city.

Now let’s compare total taxable retail sales from all sources in Pullman to other comparably sized cities in Eastern Washington:
Walla Walla
Population: 30,500
Taxable retail sales (FY 2004): $418,873,639
Average taxable retail sales per resident: $13,733.56

Population: 28,760
Taxable retail sales (FY 2004): $690,902,992
Average taxable retail sales per resident: $24,023.05

Population: 25,905
Taxable retail sales (FY 2004): $299,871,863
Average taxable retail sales per resident: $11,575.83

Population: 16,390
Taxable retail sales (FY 2004): $327,571,297
Average taxable retail sales per resident: $19,986.05

Moses Lake
Population: 16,110
Taxable retail sales (FY 2004): $393,905,075
Average taxable retail sales per resident: $24,450.97

Population: 14,520
Taxable retail sales (FY 2004): $219,081,773
Average taxable retail sales per resident: $15,088.28
Pullman has the lowest average taxable retail sales per resident of any small city in Eastern Washington. I also find it extremely significant that Wenatchee and Moses Lake, which lead the list in terms of taxable retail sales per resident both have Wal-Marts located there.

Even Clarkston, WA, our smaller neighbor to the south with a population of 7,266, has more average taxable retail sales per resident at $16,921.24. Certainly Clarkston must experience sales leakage to Lewiston, ID, it's bigger twin across the Snake, but the presence of big box store Costco, helps balance things out by importing retail sales from surrounding areas (including Pullman).

Without a Wal-Mart Supercenter, we will never realize the Comprehensive Plan’s vision. I have it from a reliable source that Target and Fred Meyer have already rejected Pullman. And why not? As of 2000, 49.4% of the population was between 18 and 24 (average age 22.5) and the median household income was $20,652, both significantly below the state average because of the large student population. And those student residents are gone 3 months of the year, reducing the town’s population by 75%. Pullman is also located 70 miles from the closest interstate highway.

According to a study by Retail Forward, 31% of Wal-Mart shoppers have an median household income income of less than $25,000 per year. 37% of Wal-Mart stores are located in areas with less than 500,000 residents.

The two largest groups of Target shoppers, both with 21 percent of the customer base, have median household incomes between $50,000 and $74,999 and greater than $100,000 a year. 58% of Target's stores are in areas with greater than 2 million in population.

Will Costco do a "preemptive strike" on Wal-Mart by moving to Pullman as hoped for by PARD? Not likely. The median age of a Costco member is 51.8 with a median income of $85,000. More than 42% of Costco members earn more than $100,000 a year.

In Pullman, according to the Census Bureau, only 12.3% of households make $50,000-$74,999 a year and an even smaller 4.7% earn over $100,000 a year

Only Wal-Mart seems to be willing to take the risk because they are the best fit for Pullman both demographically and geographically.

Wal-Marts’s opponents constantly point out that its "predatory" business practices will destroy local businesses. Hogwash. How can anyone believe that in a town of 25,000 that is served by one mid-size retail store, one drug store, and two grocery stores that we are over-retailed? If anything based on the numbers above, we are severely under-retailed. There is plenty of room for more players in our economy. Besides, competition is good. Look at Tri-State in Moscow. Everyone predicted that the Wal-Mart there would kill them off, but it hasn’t. Tri-State has refocused its market and recently renovated its store.

Speaking of Moscow, since Wal-Mart opened there approximately 15 years ago, not only is the downtown area still vibrant, but a book/music/video store, a sporting goods store, two office supply stores, a restaurant, and a hotel have opened up next door. And how about Lewiston? There is a Wal-Mart there also, but so is K-Mart, ShopKo, Safeway, Albertsons, Sears, J.C. Penney and Home Depot, all very close to Wal-Mart. That doesn't seem like economic desolation to me. That seems like economic vitality. I dare anyone to name one store in either Moscow or Lewiston that has closed solely because of Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart, contary to what its opponent say, is often a catlyst for redevelopment. The southern part of Pullman has several vacant businesses (i.e. Leisure Lanes, KFC/Taco Bell, the old Safeway site). The presence of a Wal-Mart will no doubt re-invigorate Wheatland Mall.

And we should also disabuse ourselves of this notion of “local” businesses, many of which allowed PARD to colelct petition signatures. ShopKo, which Ms. Hosick is so passionately concerned about in her letter, is a chain store based out of Green Bay, Wisconsin. Safeway, another mega-chain, is based out of California. Rite-Aid’s corporate headquarters are in Pennsylvania. And let’s not forget Les Schwab out of Oregon and Dissmores from Spokane. Why should we care if national chain stores duke it out for our business? The only true Mom and Pop type stores in Pullman are small boutique stores that cater to a specialized clientele (used books, crafts, specialty clothing, etc.). They will not be threatened by a Wal-Mart in Pullman anymore than they are threatened by a Wal-Mart in Moscow now.

This whole nonsense was brought up in a PARD advertisement thinly disguised as a March 31 cover story in The Inlander, the preferred liner of bird cages across the Inland Northwest:
"We believe the city has taken a narrow interpretation of their own codes in regard to the fiscal impact of Wal-Mart," says T.V. Reed, PARD's chairman. While some anti-Wal-Mart activists claim the city of Pullman is star-struck over the prospect of all that sales tax revenue from a Wal-Mart supercenter, Dickinson (ed. Pullman's planning director) insists the city is simply playing it safe. "We wrestle with the issues we are required to wrestle with under the city code," he says. "Something we're required to review is the fiscal impact, [but] as the city defines it — it's impact on the city's revenue, not necessarily other [business owners]."

Dickinson says the city could only rightfully refuse Wal-Mart "if there is evidence that the supercenter will drive out other businesses to the point that it would affect the revenues and expenditures for the municipality." That's unlikely, considering whatever money the city loses from businesses closing their doors can be made up easily by Wal-Mart's booming sales.

The message from the city of Pullman to its private business owners, it seems, is "You're on your own."
Gee. I guess I didn't realize it was the City of Pullman's job to regulate competition among private enterprise. No surprise then, I guess, that the Communist Party of Canada is against Wal-Mart.

Face it. Pullman is in no danger of being overrun by urban sprawl. How often do we hear students complain it is a rinky-dink little town? And people on the West Coast see us as the Jed Clampett of the PAC-10. I can’t remember how many cracks I have heard about Pullman while watching Cougar football on TV, such as: “Pullman is the only PAC-10 city without a four lane highway leading to it” or “to get to Pullman, go to the middle of nowhere, take a right and drive 80 miles.”

But Pullman is growing and diversifying in ways not related to the university. The residential and commercial development we are currently experiencing is relieving pent-up demand and is in no way bad for the city.

The city estimates that in the year 2020, our population will be 33,650. I personally think it will be higher, as we have been growing around 1% a year lately. My challenge again to PARD and the other Wal-Mart opponents is this: Instead of always being so negative and pointing out all of Wal-Mart's flaws, what do you propose as a viable solution to Pullman’s retail woes other than Wal-Mart? If you can’t guarantee a Target or a Costco will open soon (and you can’t), then why not support Wal-Mart for the good of the community?

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