Touchdown Wal-Mart

It's official: Eureka supercenter could be open by May

| December 15, 2011
Before ...
Before ...
- Photo by Zach St. George; Illustration by holly Harvey
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The open secret of the new tenant at Bayshore Mall became more open and less secret last week as construction workers talked about the remodeling.

"I don't understand the secrecy. I've never seen it before," said Jay Wright, an inspector for Fresno-based Moore Twining Co. "When I checked into the motel, I told the lady I was here to work on the project at the mall. She said, ‘Oh, you mean the Wal-Mart store?' Everybody seems to know!"

Last week heavy equipment pounded away, busting up the concrete floor inside the building to make way for modern plumbing. Dust filled the air as excavators with giant pinchers scraped twisted metal into piles. The fanciful circular mezzanine, a Gottschalks trademark, is already history and so is much of the two-story section to the west that housed offices. On the roof, where the misty fog was lifting, workers were testing for hot electrical wiring -- before ripping it out along with the old heating-and-cooling units -- while gas lines, repeatedly thumped by bulldozers below, shook like thunder.

By the end of the month, the building will be a shell -- gutted -- and reconstruction begins. By April the project is expected to be complete, and the store ready to turn over to the tenant for shelves and stocking, and a grand opening in May.

Wright has worked on about 30 Wal-Mart projects over the years for Moore Twining and other engineering-consulting firms. He joined a discussion I was having one afternoon last week with Chuck Bowers, field supervisor for the construction company Bateman-Hall of Idaho Falls. Bowers, who offered to give me a tour of the project, is in charge of the remodel and Wright will do independent structural inspection as the work progresses.

"So your company [Moore Twining] has a contract with Bateman-Hall or directly with Wal-Mart?" I asked Wright, who had just arrived in Eureka last week.

"Wal-Mart," he said.

And after a long pause, he added, "But I'm supposed to say, ‘the tenant.' ... I don't know why it's so hush-hush."

Wright just indirectly confirmed what I had already learned from Bowers, who is heading up his eighth Wal-Mart project for Bateman-Hall: that neither company is working for the owner of the property, Carrington Co. Both are under direct contract with the tenant, Wal-Mart.

When I asked Bowers about all the secrecy, he said he, too, had not encountered it before, but he thought Wal-Mart's name was on the plans like they usually were. He said he had a set in his mobile office on site so we went to look. It was then he discovered he was mistaken. The big block letters on the elevation sheet clearly said, "TENANT." After that, Bowers dropped the use of the W-word for the rest of the interview.

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What a difference 12 years makes. In 1999, Wal-Mart came to Eureka proposing to pave much of the 38-acre Balloon Track parcel -- then owned by Union Pacific. Never mind that the property was not zoned correctly, the local coastal plan and county General Plan would have had to be amended, and the project would have had to be approved by the California Coastal Commission. Never mind that the undeveloped property has a magnificent, sweeping view of the bay entrance, boat traffic and harbor adjacent to Old Town Eureka, the Victorian seaport.

Founded in 1962 by Sam Walton in tiny Rogers, Ark., Wal-Mart today is the largest retailer in the world (Fortune 500 ranked by revenue). It is also one the largest employers in the U.S. with 1.4 million "associates." What Wal-Mart wants, it usually gets.

So in 1999 Wal-Mart hired signature gatherers in Eureka to put "Measure J" on the ballot. It would have forced the City Council to rezone the Balloon Track. (Wal-Mart reimbursed the city for special election costs.) But even though Wal-Mart outspent its opponents 8-1, it was not enough. In a huge turnout of more than 50 percent of voters, 61 percent resoundingly said no. To Wal-Mart, the largest grocery-apparel-pharmacy retailer in the world.

What Wal-Mart was denied in 1999 -- a foothold in Humboldt County, where land for big box retailers is surprisingly scarce -- becomes a reality in the spring of 2012. Wal-Mart has leased the old Gottschalks building in the rear of the Bayshore Mall from Eureka-based Carrington Co., which purchased the building and seven acres in 2010 bankruptcy proceedings. There will be no costly ballot initiative this time around, no public debate, no re-zoning, no general plans changes, and no Coastal Commission scrutiny. That's because the two projects -- 1999 versus 2012 -- are very different.

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By the end of last week, and after many more questions, even a Eureka city employee used the W-word.

"We have had no direct communication with Wal-Mart. None. We always deal directly with the architect and the property owner," said Brian Gerving, code enforcement coordinator assigned to the project.

Gerving was happy to point out the differences between Wal-Mart's 1999 plans and the current project, however.

"They are totally different. The main difference is they have a right [to open a retail store in the mall]. The development standards have already been met. The other project [1999] would have required a local coast plan amendment, a general plan amendment, rezoning."

The other huge difference between the two projects is sheer size: The former Gottschalks building is 70,000 square feet. That's a small size for a full-service Wal-Mart Supercenter, which can range up to 180,000 square feet with acres of parking to match. And because the Bayshore Mall, built in 1987, is in the coastal zone, any expansion is unlikely unless more existing space could be found in the mall.

Pattison Christensen, asset manager for the Carrington Co., said the new tenant is good for the North Coast economy.

"There are some stats our tenant has that clearly show Humboldt County has shoppers that travel north, south and east to shop at their stores already. And there's the Internet, people shopping online. Those will be new tax dollars [for Eureka]. And there will be some new employment."

Christensen said local businesses are getting construction work, too.

"Bateman-Hall does a great job of ‘blending' locals with out-of-towners," he said. He said "six or seven" subcontractors already have been hired including Maples Plumbing, O & M Industries and New Life Services Co.

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Both construction out-of-towners -- Wright and Bowers -- said they are baffled that there would be any controversy about Wal-Mart coming to Humboldt County.

"There's always going to be people who bad-mouth Wal-Mart," Bowers said. "They may be people who own other businesses and don't want competition. [But] every community I've worked in was happy to get Wal-Mart. ... Pullman, Wash., Longview, Wash. -- They were tickled pink."

Bowers, who has built and remodeled commercial space and big box stores throughout the West and Midwest for almost 40 years, said his assessment of Eureka is, "You can use some competition. Safeway, Ray's ... have high profit margins. ... The only store around that is competitive to Wal-Mart [for groceries] is Winco."

And since Wal-Mart accounts for 33 percent of the grocery business in the United States, that's a lot of cheap lettuce.

Sue Swanson, property manager for Bayshore Mall, is also happy the new store in coming on line.

"It will be very positive, one more big tenant to bring people to the mall. Whenever we lose an anchor, we feel it," she said. "Someone of this size has a regional draw. We have people from as far away as Laytonville shop the mall."

The only improvement planned by the mall management is repaving a strip of asphalt at the far north mall access, the one that will bring traffic directly to the Wal-Mart's front door. It's a one-lane, one-way entrance off Broadway by Applebee's Restaurant. To exit, customers must travel south to one of the two intersections regulated by stoplights.

When asked if the sweep of homeless camps behind the mall last week was related to sprucing things up for the new tenant, Swanson said no -- and yes. She did have a meeting with Eureka Police Chief Murl Harpham a few days prior to the police arrival. But that isn't unusual, she said.

"We work with the city all the time. When we know we have an increase [in homeless population], we let them know."

And when officers have extra time, she added, they also stake out that pesky mall entrance on the north end. You can and will get a ticket if you try to sneak out. And that also will mean some additional new revenue for the city.

Editor's note: On Tuesday, prior to press deadline, a Wal-Mart spokesperson confirmed via email that the corporation is renovating and remodeling the vacant, former Gottschalks store. “We are excited to redevelop this store, offering an affordable shopping option and being closer to our Eureka customers,” said Deborah Herron, Wal-Mart senior manager for public affairs and government relations. 

Although the Journal submitted phone and email questions regarding the secrecy surrounding Wal-Mart’s first store in Humboldt County (“How unusual is it for Wal-Mart to require confidentiality agreements from the property owner and construction contractors, and why was this the case in Eureka?”) Herron said she was still researching the question and did not respond by deadline. We will post her response online when it is received.

... and after?
... and after?
- Illustration by Holly harvey

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Comments (28)

Showing 1-25 of 28

To all the people who fear this "encroachment"; it's going to be okay, the long bus is just like the short bus, just bigger.

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Posted by Sofa king wee tar on 12/15/2011 at 9:16 AM

Another place to by chemical drenched food wrapped in plastic.

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Posted by Eliza soapboxer on 12/15/2011 at 10:12 AM

When you think of walmart, think of their sweatshops full of pre-teen kids working 10 hour days, seven days a week for 12 cents an hour.

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Posted by when you think of walmart... on 12/15/2011 at 2:33 PM

Walmart just got the Supreme Court to bail it out of a huge discrimination lawsuit against it's female employees. The majority of Walmart's minimum wage employees draw on other government services to provide coverage for the benefits and wages they do not get. Walmart tried to ditch hiring older workers when they figured out this raised their health costs. Since management is centralized 98% of the living wage jobs associated with Walmart will not be local. How does Carrington's rep look in the mirror each morning after that comment?

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Posted by Jane on 12/15/2011 at 4:25 PM

"“There are some stats our tenant has that clearly show Humboldt County has shoppers that travel north, south and east to shop at their stores already." Why didn't Zach ask to see these stats or in the very least ask him to elaborate??? PRETTY DAMN IMPORTANT THING HE SAID. Zach continues with his own aside "that's a lot of cheap lettuce." Why not note, as opponents of the megastore constantly do, that it's the most toxic lettuce legally allowed in the nation? Why didn't Zach grill anybody involved on the countless statistics that refute their claims that everybody's been "tickled pink" to see Walmart come to town? Poor journalism, as heavily bias reporting as it gets.

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Posted by Caught in a lie, bad journalism. on 12/15/2011 at 6:14 PM

correction, Judy's poor reporting, I was just reading the other article. BOO! Your team is a bunch of ass kissers.

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Posted by correction... on 12/15/2011 at 6:16 PM

Kim Starr has been secretly campaigning to have Wal-Mart come to Humboldt. She needs a bulk buy alternative to Costco for all the Kleenex she uses. Boo-hoo-hoo (sniff)

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Posted by Graham Wellington on 12/16/2011 at 9:54 AM

Fetishists like 9:54 need to go away. It's sub-creepy.

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Posted by uh... on 12/16/2011 at 12:54 PM

I don't think it is any big mystery why all the secrecy...that's only way to keep the no-growthers and anti-business people from throwing a tizzy fit. I, for one, am looking forward to Walmart and I hope they force some of our "locals" like Safeway and Ray's to lower prices.

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Posted by Patricia on 12/16/2011 at 1:16 PM

Why the secrecy? Maybe because Wal-Mart knows that Humboldt is filled with anti-growth, anti-job, delusional, ideologues who have epileptic fits whenever they hear the name. Will folks be forced at gunpoint to shop, or heaven forbid, work at Walmart? As for sweatshop labor, if you are really so concerned you need to get rid of your computer. Do you know how much the Chinese child slaves are paid to assemble those? Do you know what kind of hours they work or what their living conditions are? Humboldt hasn't changed, it's still populated by misinformed hippie-crits, intent on keeping the place a dismal backwater. Sad, really sad.

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Posted by Welcome Wal-Mart on 12/16/2011 at 10:04 PM

@##$% WALMART Eureka businesses had better invest in plywood to shutter all the places that will close down for good over the next few years. Walmart will do nothing positive for Eureka or the entire county. Denial and ignorance reign supreme. Might as well just tear down the mall and build a Walmart supercenter. Every retail store that exists today in Eureka and the region will be and can only be negatively affected by this tragedy. 200 piss poor jobs, and some sales tax revenue. What a treat!

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Posted by Brian Murphy on 12/17/2011 at 10:59 AM

If you don't want to shop at Walmart, then don't. It wont make any difference. The damage to the community and other businesses in the area will be done no matter how you feel or what you do. The same fools that are glad that Walmart is coming to town and bag on those that oppose Walmart will be putting their foot in there mouth in 5 to 10 years when Eureka turns into the @#$%hole that they hoped for.

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Posted by Brian Murphy on 12/17/2011 at 11:15 AM

Not all jobs are created equally. While the creation of a couple hundred jobs sounds great on paper, anyone with a brain can quickly realize that employers that pay terrible wages which require gov't subsidized programs for their employees to survive will probably not be a great addition to a struggling rural area. It's not an issue of anti-growth, it's more of a refuting of the idea that we should accept ANY growth, regardless of the documented negative consequences associated with that growth.

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Posted by slie on 12/17/2011 at 12:29 PM

The Bayshore Mall plans to move Ross dress for less to the empty Borders spot and lease their existing space to Walmart. Combining both spaces will give Walmart the real square footage they want/need, not to mention East and West parking and entrance. Or maybe Ross goes to Hometown buffet's empty spot and lease the whole sh-bang to the gangbanger. Just thinking inside the b'box....no coastal permit, yo.

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Posted by Nimby on 12/17/2011 at 7:53 PM

Another painfully inept, milquetoast story by the North Coast Journal. No other retail giant shares the notoriety of Walmart, due solely to their own egregious record of injury to employees and rural economies. Decades of economic research, books documentary videos, class-action lawsuits, State's Attorneys General complaints, Supreme Court filings, and not one word about this company's record??? There's nothing informative, or positive, about quoting this corporation's agents to the exclusion of Walmart's overwhelmingly negative context..IT'S HISTORY! U.S. media once thrived on community-interest media. Now it's up to outraged citizens to attempt to inform the public, easily dismissed as isolated "sore losers". This is the price we pay for a media paralyzed by fear and favor.

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Posted by ALAS on 12/18/2011 at 12:11 AM

"paralyzed by fear and favor"? So tell us, Alas, what would Judy Hodgson would be afraid of? And what is the favor is she paralyzed by?

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Posted by Joel Mielke on 12/18/2011 at 10:04 AM

Ad revenue plays the largest role in contemporary censorship, I suppose. Like Walmart, fear and favor in the newsroom is also well-researched, and, like Walmart's parasitic context, is equally self-censored by media. Do you have a better explanation for Judy's coverage of Walmart's local history without a word regarding the overall context? A context easily summarized in few words! It reminds me of the recent book on the Pacific Coast trail by local HSU exec. Reese Hughs...not one word about the collapse of biodiversity or climate change or fresh water depletion, all having major impacts on the trail-experience. "Keeping it positive" has reached a new low in reporting fundamental truths and contexts in U.S. media.

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Posted by Alas on 12/18/2011 at 11:55 AM

Here is the conundrum. What are the odds that the people ranting about anti-growth policies are anti-outsourcing, anti-taxing, anti-health care reform, etc. The fact is that WalMart is a leader in outsourcing, lobbying for less regulation and taxation, and pushes their workers off onto county and statewide health systems--increasing YOUR costs and using your tax dollar. Buy a pair of socks today a penny cheaper than another store but pay a penny more as a taxpayer. So while you are happily shopping at WalMart you may be undermining all the other "values" and policies which you hold dear and near. You get the low cost bulk option at a cost to all of our futures. You are welcome to call people with other opinions any name you wish but a check on hypocrisy is not only for the liberals in this town.

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Posted by Jane Fish on 12/19/2011 at 8:56 AM

For all the Walmart coming out of Humboldt here over the years, I've never once seen an explanation as to why Kmart, Target, and Costco are okay and Walmart is not. People just single out Walmart because it's the biggest, much like the people who bad mouth McDonald's while eating at Taco Bell.

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Posted by J. Alora on 12/19/2011 at 11:19 AM

I dont think that anybody said "Kmart, Target, and Costco are okay. But if you read up and educate your self you will see that there is a clear difference, in many ways.

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Posted by Brian Murphy on 12/19/2011 at 5:16 PM

If local media educated the communities they "serve" Jane Fish's excellent synopsis (above) would be clear to all. Furthermore, Walmart is merely bigger and badder, their record exposed an entire industry! Communities cannot economically sustain unlimited numbers of poverty-wage, part-time, temporary jobs. Neither can a nation. America's current boom in predator industries; big boxes, dollar stores, Rent-To-Own, bail bonds, check cashing, rental agencies, pawn shops, job scalpers and storage units, cannot sustain an economy 70% dependent upon consumption.

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Posted by Digging The Hole Deeper on 12/19/2011 at 8:50 PM

I'm sure the same people who dislike walmart dislike our other big box "neighbors" (corporations are people, remember?) just as much. But I think a strong argument could be made that there is really no way to justify moving in another gigantic retailer into this area. Unless you're a corporate profiteer, that is. But hey, this is capitalism! The good news is that you can vote with your dollar, so they say. Just don't be surprised when our quaint community becomes more and more of a homogenized dump as the market's ever expanding hand continues to carve up Humboldt County for the purpose of massive corporate profits.

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Posted by slie on 12/20/2011 at 10:33 AM

It's crony capitalism, not "capitalism". Capitalism assumes a level playing field of competition, yet, current regulations enforce laws that manufacture unequally equipped subjects. (There's been more Occupy Eureka protesters arrested than U.S. corporate executives directly responsible for the international economic meltdown). I've visited many rural American cities where Walmart and Home Depot dominate the retail economy. Unless citizens are willing to drive hours, they have a hard time "voting with their dollars". With big box saturation comes fewer choices and, eventually, higher prices.

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Posted by In Reality on 12/20/2011 at 11:27 AM

I think you misunderstood my sarcasm...

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Posted by slie on 12/20/2011 at 1:18 PM

"Capitalism assumes a level playing field of competition..."?

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Posted by Joel Mielke on 12/20/2011 at 1:31 PM
Showing 1-25 of 28

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