Is Walmart Opening in Encinitas?

April 30, 2012, Judd

Most “old” Encinitas residents are familiar withDEMA and the Encinitas Chamber of Commerce. But perhaps several residents didn’t know that a chamber exists for “new” Encinitas as well.

According to Mike Andreen, director of the New Encinitas Business Network, there’s some heated gossip being exchanged in many stores along the El Camino Real corridor. The topic: Is Walmart opening a store in Encinitas?

“It’s been a constant subject of inquiry in the cashier lines throughout New Encinitas and has been over the last two weeks,” Andreen says.

The world’s largest retailer wants to sublease the space formerly occupied by the now-defunct Home Expo, owned by Home Depot, which is still paying the lease on the vacant storefront. The shopping center is owned by Carlsbad-based Carltas Corporation.

Andreen says that several residents and business owners are concerned about Walmart moving in to the location, which is in the same shopping center as REI, Islands Burgers and Pei-Wei, among other tenants.

“I believe many of our New Encinitas [Business Network] members, many of whom have been struggling so mightily in this dreadful economy, would be faced with competing with yet another mega-chain with very deep pockets [and] not locally owned,” he says.

It begs the question, says Andreen: If Encinitas is always in the top three of the incorporated cities within San Diego County as far as annual per capita incomes and expenditures are concerned, and if Walmarts typically don’t open locations in higher-income cities, would opening a Walmart in Encinitas make sense?

Kirsten Recce, owner of Black Whale Lighting on El Camino Real, first heard the Walmart rumor just last week.

“I’m not anti Walmart, but my biggest concern is that it would be located right next to a traffic light that’s pushing failure,” says Recce, referring to the busy intersection of El Camino Real and Leucadia Boulevard.

Traffic would also increase, predicts Recce, at the La Costa Avenue and Rancho Santa Fe Road corridor.

“We have enough traffic in town here, and Walmart would only add to it,” she says.

Donna Somerville, another small business operator on El Camino Real, is opposed to Walmart opening in Encinitas.

The owner of The Tutoring Club, Somerville says, “Walmart has been a conglomerate that has driven small businesses out of business all across the country. We already have a Target and Best Buy. I don’t understand why another huge box store has to open here.”

Somerville also has another criticism of Walmart, expressing concern that guns and ammunition would be readily available for purchase if the store succeeds in opening.

Considering there are no multiscreen movie theaters in Encinitas, it’s no doubt some residents would rather see a theater take over the lease.

When asked if UltraStar Theaters would consider applying for the sublease if Walmart does not move in, Alan Grossberg, president and CEO of the Vista-based operation said, “Absolutely. UltraStar has had a presence in North County for over 12 years [with locations in Del Mar, La Costa, Oceanside and Bonsall] and Encinitas would be the perfect city for our growth.”

As it currently stands, Encinitas’ planning and building department has told Walmart that there is not enough parking in the mall right now to support their moving in. There has been plenty of local media coverage about the specifics of the parking plan that Walmart submitted to the city, and anyone can obtain the public record of the parking plan Walmart submitted by calling City Clerk Deb Cervone at 760-633-2601.

Encinitas planning and building director Patrick Murphy says that last November, Walmart requested a final decision by the city.

“We have given them three comment letters and they did ask us for final comments and final decision,” says Murphy, who adds that at least for now, “[Walmart] acted like they weren’t going to resubmit. They wanted a final decision. That’s where we took it. We had a meeting with them about two weeks ago.”

Murphy’s statements would make it seem that it’s a sure thing that Walmart won’t be moving in to the city, though he says that’s not for certain.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say that,” says Murphy. “[Walmart] might come up with a parking mitigation plan or some approach that we haven’t considered.”

Murphy has considered at least one alternative.

“They could reduce the size of their store and meet their parking standards,” he says. “If they reduced it by 15,000 square feet [to 90,000 square feet], they might meet the standards.”

An article in the San Diego Union Tribune said that Murphy believes Walmart is not in favor of reducing the space, given that most of its stores are about 140,000 square feet. But Murphy’s comments to Patch coincide with a report earlier this week that says that the chain will open 30 to 40 small stores this year faster than originally planned.

Some of these mini Walmarts are to be as small as 15,000 square feet—six times smaller than Murphy’s hypothetical alternative.

So far the city has said “no” to Walmart, but stay tuned for further developments.

Judd Handler is a freelance writer and wellness/lifestyle coach in Encinitas, California. He surfs uncrowded, fun reef breaks; plays instrumental alternate-tuning guitar; goes hiking in the backcountry; and is amazed on a daily basis by just being alive.