The German Grocery Store Lidl - Another Empty Business in Fredericksburg, Virginia

The German Grocery Store Lidl - Another Empty Business in Fredericksburg, Virginia

We have another empty business in Fredericksburg; another empty building; another eyesore; another business not producing; it’s not employing people or enhancing the local economy. It is a business that received millions of dollars in tax incentives from the people of Virginia. It’s an empty German grocery store called Lidl.

My curiosity got the best of me so I started to dig a little. This eyesore is not in the typical random dead business lots of Fredericksburg’s Central Park, Spotsylvania Towne Centre or the near-empty Salem Church Crossing shopping center. We have a Lidl’s facility at the intersection of Harrison Crossing and Route 3 in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

The building is new, remains non-functional for almost a year, and is an eyesore to look at empty. It has a fence with the black tarp that obscures any view into the facility. It appears to have an onsite security presence. It once had at least one security camera atop a pole. One person I talked to in town actually thought the new inert Lidl store was a secret government facility.

An article from a local paper in Fredericksburg, Virginia, “Lidl buys another Spotsylvania store site” talked little about job opportunities for 200 people and alleged greater local economic development.[1] Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe approved a state grant for Lidl to build a U.S. based headquarters in the Virginia areas of Spotsylvania and Arlington.   Virginia leaders approved a $10-million-dollar package so the business sets roots in Virginia. Plus, Lidl gets nearly $6-8 million in tax rebates for nearly the next two decades.  My question is where’s the gain for the community? The building has sat there for nearly a year and provides no value to the community. 

Number of Walmart Stores Worldwide: 11,539
Number of Lidl Stores Worldwide: 10,000 plus
Number of Walmart Employees Worldwide: 2.3 Million
Number of Lidl Employees Worldwide: 315,000
Number of Countries: 28
Number of Countries: 28

·         Who employs more people per ratio- Walmart or Lidl?
·         Who makes more profit per ratio – Walmart or Lidl?
·         Does this mean Lidl employees are rich? Not likely, so what is the profit ratio across the Lidl enterprise? What are the local economic impacts of Lidl stores in the areas they serve?

A Little about Lidl

Lidl is considered one of the more modern types of store; a store of the future. It is recognized for its business technological systems-based efficiency and lean business model that leads consumers to prices that are hard for major grocery stores to compete. Lidl minimizes overhead by having minimal employee staff, a limited selective inventory of goods, and well-managed supply chain and distribution practices.  Lidl is addressed in a very interesting and disconcerting November 2015 article by, "This German Store That Is a Cross between Walmart and Trader Joe's Is Planning to Take over America."[4]

The article title comes off dramatic; it may be. However, other articles I found surfaced with similar observations and conclusions.  A big one being that Lidl may actually outcompete US grocery stores at a level that may force them to close. Outcompeting/outperforming businesses is not new. What may be concerning is the long-term social and economic impact if they are not monitored by the communities they are supposed to serve. There’s a danger of local unemployment.

Lidl has a small portion of the UK grocery store market at less than 6%.[5] However, Lidl's pricing is outperforming the current grocery store market as incumbent stores compete to stay relevant. US stores identified as being threatened by Lidl are Walmart, “Food Lion, Bi-Lo, Winn Dixie, and dollar stores such as Dollar General and Family Dollar”.[6] I ask myself if this is the commercial version of whereby people introduce the snakehead fish into American waters that destroy US gamefish to the point of possible extinction?[7] In this case, the snakehead is Lidl, the gamefish are US grocery stores.

This sounds great for business, but I have to ask what are the economic and employment casualty numbers? Lidl does not appear to beat competitors because their products a better; it appears Lidl is beating customers because of low employee overhead and efficiency. This is something communities need to think carefully. The employees of the Giant grocery store at Harrison Crossing just survived the possibility of losing their jobs from a store sellout; they may not be so lucky if Lidl becomes operational if the businessinsider article has any truth to it.[8]

The Picture that Disturbs Me

One powerful and depressing image of a Lidl store concerns me potentially reflecting itself in the United States is the article photo by Reuters . The photo portrays something out of a depressing Orwelian 1984ish soviet-style look. You see long food lines with mostly elderly people in them. You see the store surrounded by a drab colored crowded-looking apartment complex.  Of note, there is Eastern European writing that seems to make sense for this image, but look at the other photos in other parts of Europe as well. You don’t see much in terms of positive human interaction; no happy employees or managers. You see only cold dreary looking buildings and long lines. I hope similar images don’t surface in the US.

Though I look forward to Lidl opening a store in the area to offer consumers lower prices, I do not want to see other grocery stores shut down and people, to include disabled and elderly employees, lose their jobs due to being not efficient enough to work in the Lidl model. This appears to be an unintended consequential form of economic genocide.

Bait and Switch - American Consumerism and Questionable Future Economic Prospects

Consumers cannot exist unless they have jobs that allow them to have money to spend…there is a symbiotic relationship here not being discussed…it appears one-way… will a consumer driven expansion of Lidl kill the golden goose?

I also ask if American consumerism will enslave itself to building a foreign economy, while not spending more in American business enterprises?

Despite this, I see potential indicators the weak US economy and limited job growth makes the US prey to foreign business chains that appear machine/technology driven, efficient, cold and unconnected. Their focus is money, and nothing but money.  Their structures appear cold, efficient and matter-of-fact.

My current impression is foreign-owned businesses like Lidl’s offer low prices in the short-term. However, I wonder if the low food prices consequently mask a darker side in the long-term. My concerns are loss of local jobs; unintentional contribution to local economic depression; loss of community; loss of freedom of choice. Is America falling for an economic bait and switch buy trading for short-term consumables for long-term permanent negative impacts on our local economies and culture?  In short, I see a potential where American consumerism may build a foreign economy. Where does this leave US jobs and the US economy?

Is Lidl a Foreshadowing of the Global Economy?

Stores like Lidl are just an example of a greater trend Americans may want to understand in terms of the driving forces of what makes them successful, and how it portends our future. We talk about global warming. We don't talk about global firing. Global firing is an extreme term, but relevant to this topic in order to highlight an issue. I think global firing is something to think about as all countries are dealing with crazy fluctuations within their respective economies; a lack of steady jobs, training and opportunity.[9] Much of this is amplified by our ever-improving technologies, some of which are putting people out of jobs.[10] Yes, new types of jobs are surfacing, but the knowledge and education to prepare is lacking, at least according to the World Economic Forum where they note.  People will find themselves behind the power curve wondering how they may survive.

The global workforce is expected to experience significant churn between job families and functions. Across the countries covered by the Report, current trends could lead to a net employment impact of more than 5.1 million jobs lost to disruptive labour market changes over the period 2015–2020, with a total loss of 7.1 million jobs—two thirds of which are concentrated in routine white collar office functions, such as Office and Administrative roles—and a total gain of 2 million jobs, in Computer and Mathematical and Architecture and Engineering related fields. Manufacturing and Production roles are also expected to see a further bottoming out but are also anticipated to have relatively good potential for upskilling, redeployment and productivity enhancement through technology rather than pure substitution.[11]

Grocery Stores and Sense of Community

Grocery stores are a part of who we are as Americans; they are form of community center. They define our health, local employment and local economic health.  Grocery stores also have kiosks where locals meet and chat about their lives with one another, while other family members shop. Grocery stores can give people a way to connect. One such store is Wegmans in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Wegmans holds movies nights for kids. Wegmans also offers venues for community within their family/community friendly dining areas. Stores like Wegman's provide jobs; promote family and community; shape perceptions of a sense of well-being, quality and abundance; it gives you a sense of wealth, perspective and appreciations we live in a free and prosperous country...even during hard times like now. I know more people by name that work at Wegman's than any other. 

On the other hand, we have stores like Lidl surfacing in the US which is antitehical to nearly everything in the previous paragraph.

What kind of future do we want? Kids living at home longer because they cannot even work at a local grocery store. People with disabilities, or the elderly, who need jobs to make ends meet as well as give them a sense of independence. Even people, who lack the means to pay for higher education are left out of the future; then again, a higher education does not guarantee a job. Worse yet, high unemployment contributes to increases in drug use and crime.

What Now?

The article reveals a kaleidoscope of issues I identify as observations and questions I think people may want to consider. There is the consumer view; there is the business view; there is the impact on society and social responsibility view; and there is potentially an extremist view. I’m pro-business by nature, but I also believe social responsibility needs to be considered…especially in a world of haves and have-nots chasm that is widened by technology and systems under the label of globalization.  

Consumer View
Pro-Business View
Social Impacts View
Extremist View
Low-cost products
Less employee equals potential for higher profit margins for a select few. Product sales is premium; customer service and satisfaction made subordinate.
Perception that wealth gets concentrated to a few, which can lead to radicalization between haves and have-nots
Perceptions of Loss of equal opportunity could sow seeds of radical political activism e.g. Occupy Wall Street
Limited core products
Systematic acquisition and dispersing logistics systems
Lack of personal connection. Lidl stores have little character, personal interaction and nuance; you simply run view a conveyor belt – very socialist
American Dream is gone, freedom of choice fades
Bring your own bags and bag your own groceries
Lowers overhead costs
Difficult for disabled shoppers
More empty buildings and dying towns like Detroit, Michigan
Offers low-cost merchandise such as clothing and other items
Materials are systematically made; cheap; lack character
Regimentation of product

Great prices, as long as you have a paying job
Traditional stores unable to compete with low prices
Lower paid employees; possible less in benefits; longer work hours
You are a replaceable wheel in the big machine.
Provides a simple function; like going to the bathroom.

Potential to depress local economy as people cannot find jobs
Possible increased crime and drug use due to lack of opportunity

Some potential perspectives amongst Consumers, Pro-Business, Social Impacts and Extremist Views

Unstable economies contribute to a variety of culture changes, social problems, social adjustments/adaptations and challenges…the worse culmination of them lead to revolutions and/or insurgencies.  My nearly three-decades worth of experience and insights on a variety of international issues naturally attune me to watch for the potential of resource-driven conflicts e.g. access to water, food and ability to live life on one’s own terms. America is not immune to the impacts of lost jobs, wealth and prosperity our country once enjoyed over the last century. Some people even wonder if America is on the decline. Look at the American farmer…they are nearly extinct.[12] Here’s what the World Economic Forum had to say about the future of jobs.

"Without urgent and targeted action today to manage the near-term transition and build a workforce with futureproof skills, governments will have to cope with ever-growing unemployment and inequality, and businesses with a shrinking consumer base," said Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, in the report.[13]

These are the sorts of random, but loosely connected thoughts running through my mind simply because of a grocery store. Had Lidl opened their store in Fredericksburg, it would have killed my suspicion and this article would never have happened. 

This is not a research paper; just a random piece driven by curiosity.


[1] Estes, Lindley. "Lidl Buys Another Spotsylvania Store Site: Local Business." Last modified October 15, 2015.
[2] Wikipedia. "Walmart." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Last modified September 10, 2016.
[3] Wikipedia. "Lidl." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Last modified September 10, 2016.
[4] Petersen, Hayley. "German Store Lidl Plans US Expansion." Business Insider. Last modified November 3, 2015.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force. "Northern Snakehead." ANS Task Force. Accessed September 10, 2016.
[8]   Petersen, Hayley. "German Store Lidl Plans US Expansion." Business Insider. Last modified November 3, 2015.
[9] Brinded, Lianna. "WEF Davos Report on Robots Replacing Human Jobs." Business Insider. Last modified January 18, 2016.
[10] World Economic Forum. "Executive Summary- The Future of Jobs Employment, Skills and Workforce Strategy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution." World Economic Forum - Home. Last modified January 2016.
[11] World Economic Forum. "Executive Summary- The Future of Jobs Employment, Skills and Workforce Strategy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution." World Economic Forum - Home. Last modified January 2016.
[12] Ferdman, Roberto A. The Decline of the Small American Family Farm in One Chart." Washington Post. September 16, 2014. Accessed September 07, 2016.
[13] Brinded, Lianna. "WEF Davos Report on Robots Replacing Human Jobs." Business Insider. Last modified January 18, 2016.

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