Monday, December 3, 2007

JMO - Why Walmart isn't right

We've read the books and seen the documentaries for and especially against Walmart. And I've ranted enough on some of Web pages about this corporation as the most anti-American one in history. I'm not saying it's the most corrupt or worst one, that easily could be argued to be those in the late 1800 to early 1900's when they were not only rich and powerful. You know the Gettys, Vanderbilts, Rockefellers, etal.

I'm saying Walmart's business practice does the most to degrade American workers with low wages, less than adequate health care benefits, workplace discrimination, and so on. Mostly, however, it's their corporate attacks on American companies trying to keep businesses in America and American producing goods for less than fair wages and their continual almost exclusive purchase of Chinese goods, which in turn supports the Chinese government's exploitation and oppression of their workers.

No, not that, but something else shows why they don't work and aren't right. I live in a small town, legally defined as a city, outisde of Tacoma, Washington, across the Narrows Bridges. It has a quaint little downtown business core and a small satellite business center that dates from the first settlements in the area around the small bay. It also has a larger commercial center on both sides of the highway that bypasses the town.

About twenty years ago both centers, on each side of the highway, were small local shops with a center of one or a few larger grocery store or similar business. The necessity businesses of a community. The one on the west side also had the old, original building of the first motel established on this side of the older Narrows Bridge. It wasn't a landmark but should have been except that it got in the way of progress.

Well, about ten years ago the center on the east side upgraded itself with additional businesses around key larger businesses. Then the west side center wanted to expand. And the motel was in the way. And here is where the story really begins.

The owner of the motel died and his heirs couldn't afford the taxes on the property. A real estate broker came out of the woodwork to offer them a deal. The county agreed since this property was just outside the city limits and under the jurisdiction of the county. The local citizens planning committee discovered the broker was a front for Walmart, and the entire property and adjacent property would become one giant Walmart serving the greater population than just the local community.

The arguments for it were numerous. Walmart mounted its normal, "We're good for the community" advertising. But all the numbers showed the opposite, and would actually take business away from the existing business, including several name brands who have a long history here. Walmart argued it needed a population within a 15-20 mile radius to make it profitable when most of the local businesses had a 5-10 mile radius. Beyond that were other local business center in the county or Tacoma, some with their own big box stores.

In short Walmart secretly skewed the numbers while the citizens group showed the truth behind them. To show that Walmart wasn't good for the whole peninsula area. Over the course of about two years the city annexed the propertry and more from the county, who didn't want the court fights. The city then rezoned it out of Walmart's interest. They promptly sold it. Walmart eventually built one about 15 miles north in a semi-rural area alongside the highway in the adjacent county.

It has sat idle until this summer when a developer began construction of a diverse shopping center with businesses that didn't conflict with existing businesses and added new reasons to shop there. There will be 24-30 middle class and specialty businesses, such as Border, Coldwater Creek, Panea Bread, etc., which with the other two centers on the west side and the one on the east side bring new customers and add better jobs than any Walmart could do for the community.

In the end, the city got what it wanted, new diverse businesses which adds to the city tax base, and not rely solely on one corporate giant. The citizens got a larger diverse center which rivals many in Tacoma and other small cities in the area. Customers get businesses where there are choices of many along with the pace that fits the people.

Everyone won, except Walmart, but no one here is shedding a tear for them.

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