Thursday, April 11, 2013

Walmart and McDonalds - the Clovis way of life?

Clovis is Fresno's smaller, richer and more suburban neighbor. It plays a role common in metropolitan areas around the country - the Pasadena to Los Angeles, or the Cambridge to Boston for example. The cities share a common border but the demographics and income levels don't quite match up.

To differentiate itself, Clovis positions itself as the more traditional and rural alternative to "big city Fresno."  Downtown Clovis is called "Old Town", and two decades ago the entire district was re-themed in an old-west motif that works quite well on the single or two-story century-old buildings. Along with the annual rodeo, the farmer's markets and other activities, Clovis tries to preserve what they tout is their "way of life". The recent centennial for example was branded as "Celebrating the Clovis Way of Life for 100 Years."

(Note: This post got longer than I thought, if you're here for charts, they're at the bottom!) 

In parts, it works. Go to a bar in Clovis, and you'll see many more cowboy hats and boots than you would in a bar in Fresno, and obviously the parking lot will have seven pickups for every sedan. Try and find good Mexican food, and you might have to eat at a chain like Robertitos - tasty, but not quite the same as what you'd find in south Fresno.


Clovis tries to brand itself as the richer, safer town that doesn't have to deal with the problems Fresno has. In part, that's true. There aren't as many homeless people, but that's because all the county social service offices are located in Fresno. There's not as much crime, but that's because the city is five times smaller. While Clovis likes to pretend they've done better due to planning, the fact is, they're better off because growth arrived decades later than it did to Fresno.

The problem with Clovis, is that they keep making decisions that are making them more and more like Fresno, and not in a good way. They're repeating the bad decisions Fresno made many years ago, and are being forced to deal with the unpleasant consequences. The Clovis way of life is being chipped away as the growth has finally caught up with poor planning. 

Pick a road that goes from Fresno to Clovis - maybe Shaw or Herndon going East, or Clovis and Fowler going North. Aside from the change in the street sign colors, it's almost impossible to tell when Fresno ends and where Clovis begins. The same strip malls (many vacant) lie on either side of the municipal border. The same cookie cutter homes are dropped into any available lot.

Here's an example:

The municipal boundary lies exactly in the middle of this picture. Can you tell the difference?

 photo clovis1_zpsfe694bfb.png

Trailer parks, big box stores, and mostly empty parking lots. Is this Clovis or Fresno?

 photo clovis2_zpse0b5c03a.png

A month or so ago, Clovis's newest "attraction" opened- a brand new Walmart Super Center and an assortment of smaller chain retail outlets. That center was allowed to open just a mile from the town's main attraction (Old Town) and just three miles from an existing Walmart. While I haven't stopped by to visit the new monstrosity, I do have some pictures of parts of the center while it was under construction.

That development was held up for almost a decade by retailers who argued that a new Walmart would bring blight to town as other stores closed. The city didn't care about that argument - they wanted shiny new construction. Those who brought the lawsuit were right. Old Navy for example, currently located on Shaw, is set to abandon their existing location for the new one by Walmart. That store is located in the middle of a corridor that Clovis is trying to revitalize. They've not helped themselves by inciting retailers to leave. I wrote about why Shaw is doing so badly.

The opening of the Walmart, and many development like it (such as yet another Mcdonalds), made me wonder if Clovis is transforming into Fresno faster than expected.

Clovis has a population just shy of 100,000, while Fresno proper is over half a million. I decided to see how both cities compare to their California peers in terms of Walmarts and Mcdonalds.

Why those two? Because they're the standard when it comes to exceptionally poor urban design, auto-domination, poor product quality, and generally, low standards. Basically, you don't find Wal-Marts in "classy" places like Beverly Hills and Cambridge, and while Mcdonalds are ubiquitous, they're pretty rare in upscale cities.

Essentially, if Clovis was actually working to keep itself wealthier, more attractive and more desirable than Fresno, you would expect to find less mass-market chains and more unique retail options. That would be either because the city actively worked to turn down that kind of development, as is the case in many small coastal cities which ban chains, or because proper planning had made locating in town undesirable. Walmart, for example, doesn't lift a finger to make their stores attractive for pedestrians. If city planning required for example that parking be hidden in the back, Walmart might simply look elsewhere because they're not fans of adapting.

After doing some quick research, I think the transformation into being just another no-name city has arrived.  The Clovis way of life is now firmly entrenched in big box stores and fast food - let's take a look.


For Wal-Mart, I counted up their retail locations inside city borders. There are three types of Wal-Marts - I counted their standard stores as 1, their supercenters as 1.5 stores, and the new neighborhood markets as .5 stores. For Clovis and Fresno, I counted the new neighborhood markets set to open this summer (one each).

So we start by looking at Walmart and population.

This chart is essentially read where the top is the worst - the closer you are to the top, the more dominating Walmart is.

 photo clovis3_zpsdfbf0e9c.png

For example in Selma, there's less than 16,000 people per Walmart. Compare to LA, where 1.5 MILLION people share each Wal-Mart. Clovis finds itself very near the top - lots of Wal-Marts for such a small city. Fresno, surprisingly, is near the bottom.

Walmart per 100k means that for every 100,000 people, Clovis, has just over thee Walmarts available. Fresno, only .69.

San Francisco has no Walmarts. Makes sense, they're the most urban....and the richest. As I said before, upscale, walkable and attractive places are not where you'll find a supercenter.


It's not all about population, lets look at land-area too.

 photo clovis4_zpscfd9fd79.png

The chart is very similar. Bakersfield goes up a few spots, but Clovis and Fresno remain the same. Essentially, you can drive for hours in LA and not see a Walmart. in Clovis? They're  EVERYWHERE. (It's a small area).


How about Mcdonalds? I organized the charts in the same way. Note that the LA number may not be accurate. I rounded to 70 in case I missed a few during my count.

 photo clovis6_zps43d0d6e2.png

Here's a surprise....the ordering is almost the same! I honestly expected LA to be the worst on these lists, but it turns out, Sanger and Clovis are the ones being overwhelmed. Fresno, again, does better than expected, and LA even beats out SF. 


When adjusted for area, we get some different results. Here, San Francisco loses because you're always close to a Mcdonalds. Bakersfield takes the crown this time, but LA isn't far behind. Clovis and Fresno are closer here, but Clovis is still worse off.

 photo clovis5_zps16e2db17.png

Is this analysis perfect? Obviously not. While SF may for example, have a greater McDonalds density, the abundance of store-front retail means that if I did an analysis comparing total restaurants to Mcdonalds, I'm sure they'd be best off.

There's also an important point about LA: my numbers are city boundaries only. the greater LA area is overwhelmed by McDonalds and Walmarts. For whatever reason though, they choose not to locate in the massive city proper.

But really, the real point was to compare Clovis to Fresno, and Clovis isn't looking good.

They're losing what makes the city unique, attractive, and desirable. They're better off than Fresno when it comes to things like the City Hall treasury, but that's because the infrastructure is newer, and the population is smaller.

Want to know what Clovis may look like in twenty years? Visit the parts of Fresno that are twenty years older. Without correction, Shaw is heading straight down the path that south Blackstone did. And Herndon will eventually transition to look like Shaw today. 

Clovis could use their position of independence to strike a course different from Fresno, and yet they seem content to approve the same exact things Fresno has been doing for decades. Those decisions have consequences, and it's a shame the officials don't realize that before the mistakes are made.

4 comments:

  1. I did the same for San Jose:

    193000 people per Walmart
    35.6 sq miles per Walmart

    48374 people per McDonalds
    8.9 sq miles per McDonalds

    San Jose is the sprawl of the Bay Area. San Jose is trying to improve the city but it is still letting too much retail surrounded by a lot of parking.

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    1. If I had time Id love to do this for more places

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  2. Great idea. That's an interesting way to measure cities' quality of development. I agree 100% with using WalMarts that way because I've never seen an urban version of one. McDonalds though has a lot of urban storefront locations.(At least in the midwest they do) They are every couple blocks in Chicago's loop plus they're in train stations and even museums. I don't think those make the overall cityscape any worse. If there was a way to only count McDonalds with drive-throughs I think you'd be onto something there as well.

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    1. Good point. However with the exception of LA and SF, all the above cities are mcdonalds with drive-thrus.....well, actually, there are four that dont; inside a Wal-Mart.

      Id love to do an analysis of drive-thru fast food places total, and I will one day if I have the time.

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