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Our Opinion: Big box big dilemma

January 12, 2001

A proposed "big box" ordinance wending its way through Calexico City Hall could be a good thing. Then again, it could be a bad thing.

By amending the city's general plan zoning ordinances to limit the amount of sales-floor space devoted to nontaxable items such as food to 5 percent if that store is more than 100,000 square feet, local smaller and family-owned grocery stores will be protected from these so-called "big box stores."

On the East Coast, and steadily extending west are a number of companies creating gigantic stores — some as large as 200,000 and 300,000 square-feet — where groceries priced astonishingly low because of buying power are tools by which shoppers are lured to buy other items.

Consequently, "mom and pop" grocery stores, and even chain outfits such as Vons and Albertson's, suffer because they begin to compete with a super-sized giant like Super Wal-Mart. Who could compete if one store is selling a dozen eggs for a $1.50 when everybody else is selling it for $2?


The Calexico Planning Commission has already given its nod of approval to the big box ordinance. Now the ordinance has to go to a public hearing and, ultimately, get the approval of the Calexico City Council.

But there are a few things we don't like about this ordinance. One is its conception.

A consultant working for several national chain supermarkets brought this proposed ordinance to the independent grocers of Calexico. It's odd they'd be working together on such an issue when a giant store like Food 4 Less, apparently set to build in Calexico in the near future, wouldn't give a second thought to crushing under its foot a Garcia Foods or Super Shopping.

We understand such an alliance to the extent that everybody is protected from the sight of a big box's big guns.

Still, there is another side to this in that a department store chain such as Target, which is considering moving into the huge Crossroads shopping center being planned for a prime spot in Calexico, would not be able to use one of its bigger store designs because the grocery/dry goods section of the store would be more than 5 percent of the floor space. That could mean Target not coming at all or Target bringing a much smaller store. It also could mean Kmart or another such client might choose not to locate in the center if Target backs out.

All that means a big loss of tax revenue and jobs in a city that needs both. What this measure would do is hurt the potential of Calexico getting a department store that sells a limited selection of groceries and does so as a low priority.

Protecting local grocers is important, but driving away what are essentially department stores doesn't seem like the best way to do it.

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