How Much Impact Can Walmart Have On A Downtown-Less City?

Walmart

Elk Grove is a former bedroom community just outside of Sacramento. With 153,015 residents (as of 2010 Census), Elk Grove should no longer be considered as such, since it is a fully vested city that saw growth explode in the past two decades.

With such rapid growth, city leaders reacted instead of envisioned what kind of city that Elk Grove should be. Not surprisingly, the city lacks a true downtown or city center where business and civic activity can truly converge and concentrate.

Ironic, isn’t it, that city leaders would be reluctant to approve a zoning change to classify a Walmart as a “grocery store” so that the big box retailer could be unconstrained by such regulations as hours of operation limits or amount of floor space dedicated to the sale of non-taxable goods. (I am undecided as to whether the latter is more efficient than simply limiting the total amount of floor space in constraining Big Box.)

The Staff Report (PDF) lays out the definitions from the municipal code that regulates the types of businesses that can operate where and how they can operate.

But here’s some food for thought: If Walmart is known for “destroying” downtowns across America, then how much impact can it have on the economy of a city that doesn’t have a true downtown and few traditional local businesses? If the city has nothing from franchises and big box stores, then what would you be fighting for?

[image via Carlson]