Studies provide ammunition, food for thought for foes of planned Versailles Wal-Mart

gkocher1@herald-leader.comApril 28, 2014 

The parking lot was busy April 23 at the Lawrenceburg Wal-Mart Supercenter, one of the closer Wal-Marts to Versailles. Frankfort, Georgetown and Lexington all have Supercenters, and another has been proposed for Versailles. Photo taken on Wednesday, April 23, 2014. Photo by Greg Kocher | Staff gkocher1@herald-leader.comThe parking lot was busy April 23 at the Lawrenceburg Wal-Mart Supercenter, one of the closer Wal-Marts to Versailles. Frankfort, Georgetown and Lexington all have Supercenters, and another has been proposed for Versailles. Photo taken on Wednesday, April 23, 2014. Photo by Greg Kocher | Staff gkocher1@herald-leader.com

GREG KOCHER | STAFF — Lexington Herald-Leader Buy Photo

VERSAILLES — Opponents of a proposed new Wal-Mart on the south side of Versailles have said that it will bring too much traffic, that it will disrupt an area that is now agricultural and residential, and that it probably will cause other retailers to close.

A review of studies conducted during the past seven years shows that opponents might have research to back up the argument about Wal-Mart's effects on existing businesses.

But other research suggests that a new Wal-Mart might have effects that Versailles residents have not considered. For example, those living closest to the proposed supercenter — many of whom are now the most vocal opponents — might stand to gain with higher property values.

Wal-Mart did not respond to a written request, submitted to its website, for comment about these studies.

Wal-Mart has been the subject of debate in Versailles since a preliminary plat for a 158,500-square-foot supercenter was filed this month. The proposed site for the store is off exit 68 of the Martha Layne Collins Blue Grass Parkway.

The property was annexed into the City of Versailles in 2012 and was rezoned that year from agricultural to highway business. The Versailles-Midway-Woodford County Planning and Zoning Commission will consider the preliminary plat at its June 12 meeting. (Wal-Mart's consulting engineers did not make necessary changes to preliminary plans in time for a May 8 meeting, hence the June 12 date.)

Wal-Mart rang up sales of $469 billion and profits of nearly $17 billion in 2012, when it held the No. 1 spot in the Fortune 500. That economic muscle doesn't come without controversy.

A 2008 study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology indicated that Wal-Mart's rapid expansion during the 1980s and 1990s was responsible for 40 percent to 50 percent of the decline in the number of small discount stores.

A study published this year in Social Science Quarterly found that within 15 months of a new Wal-Mart opening, four to 14 retail stores closed, while at most, three new retail stores opened.

In addition, a study published in 2007 in the Journal of Urban Economics found that "a Wal-Mart store opening reduces county-level retail employment by about 150 workers, implying that each Wal-Mart worker replaces approximately 1.4 retail workers. This represents a 2.7 percent reduction in average retail employment."

These studies lend weight to the arguments of opponents who fear that the entry of Wal-Mart into Woodford County might be the death knell for mom-and-pop stores or Kmart in Versailles. The Kmart store has been at U.S. 60 and Marsailles Road since 1993, but Kmart was a fixture in Versailles years before that.

Kmart and Kroger anchor a shopping center on the east side of Versailles, but Kroger plans to break ground in May for a larger store across the highway. Opponents say the entry of Wal-Mart into the marketplace could lead to an empty shopping center just as city officials are trying to jump-start development at another nearby property, where a vacant shopping center was demolished.

On the other hand, Wal-Mart proponents can cite other research to bolster their arguments.

A May 2012 working paper of the National Bureau of Economic Research found that a new Wal-Mart store "actually increases housing prices by between 2 and 3 percent for houses located within a half-mile of the store, and by 1 to 2 percent for houses located between a half-mile and one mile from the store."

The authors compiled a data set that linked more than 1 million residential housing transactions that occurred within four miles of 159 Wal-Marts that opened in the United States from 2000 through 2006.

"For the average-priced home in these areas, this translates into an approximate $7,000 increase in housing price for homes within a half-mile of a newly opened Wal-Mart and a $4,000 increase for homes between a half- and one mile," the paper said.

Greg Kocher: (859) 231-3305. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety.

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