Friday, August 13, 2004

Wal-Mart: love it or hate it?

Hello Kari:

How do Kansans feel about Wal-Mart?

As a left-coaster, I have little actual experience with Wal-Mart.

In fact, the first time I set foot in a Wal-Mart was in Winslow, Arizona in 1998.

I was there as part of a church group that ran five-days worth of Bible school for the local kids many of whom were Native Americans.

I was one of the staff "gophers." While the high schoolers actually ran the classes, crafts and games for the kids, I was the van driver, chef and handyman fixing things in the church we stayed in and ran the Bible school from. Whatever odds or ends that came up that had to get taken care of, I got to help take care of it.

We had our share of supply runs to the local market, hardware store and yes, the Wal-Mart.

I usually could find what we needed there at a good price and with good service with a small town smile. So my impression was pretty good.

As an LA resident, Wal-Mart is not around yet (and might not arrive) so I have no other experience with the famed stores. A search of the Wal-Mart store locator says there are 10 stores within 25 miles of where I live but I can't say I've been to any of them yet.

Wal-Mart was a huge retail success story but in recent years, Wal-Mart has come under fire.

A couple of days ago, I was reading the LA Times about the controversy over Wal-Mart Superstores attempting to locate in the area.

The LA City Council voted to require economic impact reports for big stores to locate in the city. Excerpt:

Under the ordinance, retailers wanting to build stores larger than 100,000 square feet that devote more than 10% of their sales floor to food and other nontaxable items would have to pay for an economic analysis. The report would forecast whether a proposed store would eliminate jobs, depress wages or harm neighborhood businesses in many parts of the city.

I read on and came across this comment in the article: Two years ago Councilmen Eric Garcetti and Ed Reyes proposed banning superstores in economically depressed areas of the city, but later scaled back their measure.

I read it with disbelief. Umm, so banning the superstores from economically depressed areas is supposed to help those economically depressed area? Is that the logic here? Beats me.

There is more: At the state level, Sen. Richard Alarcon, who is also running for mayor of Los Angeles, has introduced a proposal that would make reports similar to those in the city's ordinance mandatory statewide.

The sentiment against Wal-Mart is pretty strong I guess!

As someone somewhat of an economic libertarian, I'm rather stunned by the opposition to Wal-Mart. If they bring jobs to the area, then why not?

However, as someone who respects local control in governance, if a population in a locality wants to restrict growth or prevent certain types of businesses from opening, than that is their right. Afterall, a casino probably brings jobs and revenue to an area but if the citizens don't want that kind of crowd in their town, their concerns need to be heard and if the city council votes to keep them out, so be it.

I have a friend who lives in Sedona, Arizona. She tells me that it is the classic small town with great tourism options. Thus, there is an ongoing battle between long time residents who want to keep the small town feel and others in the town who want the economic development that more tourism would bring. The town does NOT have a Wal-Mart; one has to go a dozen miles or so to Cottonwood to get to a Wal-Mart.

The Sedonians also imposed this on McDonalds.

So yeah, local control can be odd but my political philosophy respects it even if I have to chuckle at it.

Anyway, all of this is to set up the question: how is Wal-Mart viewed in your neck of the woods?

Yours truly,


Blogger Kari said...

For the most part, Wal-Mart is welcome around these parts, but an attempt to bring one in to replace a mall in a somewhat more densely populated, older KC suburb called Mission has brought controversy (see article here for free for a week or so).

As the story notes, sometimes snobbery plays a bigger role in Wal-Mart opposition than its critics would like to admit. For example, one reason some Mission residents oppose it is that it would bring in shoppers from less affluent areas.

While cities obviously have the right to set standards for development, I think it's bad business to play games with the rules in an attempt to exclude a specific company, especially if it's willing to play by established rules.

7:35 AM  

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