It recently came to my attention that a number of Wickenburg residents are not only pro-development, but are doing their best to “maximize the roof count” in town. Why? So the town can “attract better stores.”
Better stores? Do they mean like Wal-Mart? The same company that moves into a community and drives the other businesses out of business?
I’m not just saying this because I don’t like to buy cheap junk made in China from a company that practices cut-throat competition and pays poor wages. I have the research documents to support this statement:
The “Impact of the Wal-Mart Phenomenon on Rural Communities” (PDF) by Kenneth E. Stone of Iowa State University, begins:
There is strong evidence that rural communities in the United States have been more adversely impacted by the discount mass merchandisers (sometimes referred to as the Wal-Mart phenomenon) than by any other factors in recent times. Studies in Iowa have shown that some small towns lose up to 47 percent of their retail trade after 10 years of Wal-Mart stores nearby.
Maybe you don’t think of Wickenburg as a “rural community.” It was one when I first started coming here six years ago — which is one of the things that attracted me to the town. But that’s not the only document that addresses this issue.
In “The Impact of Wal-Mart on Small Towns” (PDF), a summary of a PBS documentary titled “Store Wars: When Wal-Mart Comes to Town” by Micha Peled, Matt Kures and Bill Ryan present both sides of the argument about bringing a Wal-Mart to a small town. Their summary includes coverage of the economic, employment, and community character impacts:
…the actual economic value of a new Wal-Mart is often questioned. While Wal-Mart may provide tax revenues, many argue that the costs of municipal services such as water, sewer, police and fire protection outweigh the taxes received. Researchers suggest that as smaller stores are forced out of business, their tax revenues are lost and existing infrastructure is abandoned. Ultimately, these tax dollars are simply transferred from dollars spent at smaller retailers to dollars spent at Wal-Mart. Other businesses such as banks and local newspapers also suffer as many of the services they have provided are no longer needed. Sales from local retailers that were once recycled in the community are now sent to Wal-Mart’s corporate headquarters.
Later, they say:
Given Wal-Mart’s site-selection strategy, they are often able to force smaller retailers out of business. Subsequently, as downtown retailers fail, the downtown is destroyed. The decline of the downtown leads to sprawling development, increased traffic at the edge of town, and abandoned infrastructure downtown. Accordingly, the change in land use and loss of green space brings environmental problems. Ultimately, many people view the loss of a community’s downtown business district as the loss of a community’s character.
Richard Freeman is a bit more blunt in the opening paragraph of his article, “Wal-Mart Collapses Cities and Towns“:
During the last 20 years, Wal-Mart has moved into communities and destroyed them, wiping out stores, slashing the tax base, and turning downtown areas into ghost-towns. This is accomplished through Wal-Mart’s policy of paying workers below subsistence wages, and importing goods that have been produced under slave-labor conditions overseas. Often, communities will even give Wal-Mart tax incentives, for the right to be destroyed.
Whoa! Calm down, fella.
Many cities and towns across the country are reporting that big-box retailers are generating large numbers of police calls — far more than local businesses do.
One reason for this is that Wal-Mart and other big chains, as a matter of company-wide policy, involve the police in every incident, no matter how small. While someone caught shoplifting a $3 item from a local store might simply be told by the owner never to come back, that same $3 shoplifting incident at Wal-Mart will cost the city hours of police time in responding to the call, filling out paperwork, and a possible court appearance.
The article goes on to list specific examples of how police costs and crime have increased in communities after a Wal-Mart or other “big box” store came to town.
The Wickenburg Sun should be saying “No” to Wal-Mart, too. As Al Cross, Director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues reports in his article titled “Small-town newspaper folks have frank discussions with Wal-Mart executives“:
Wal-Mart has been huge for small-town newspaper folks for years — and not, most of them say, in a good way. The company buys relatively little newspaper advertising, and local newspapers and other businesses say it puts out of business the local firms that formed the retail and advertising bases in their areas.
Wal-Mart may also increase poverty levels in some areas. According to a study titled “Wal-Mart and County-wide Poverty” (PDF) published in October 2004 by Stephan J. Goetz and Hema Swaminathan of the Pennsylvania State University:
We find, after controlling for other factors determining changes in the poverty rate over time, that both counties with more initial (1987) Wal-Mart stores and with more additions of stores between 1987 and 1998 experienced greater increases (or smaller decreases) in family poverty rates during the 1990s economic boom period.
How does Wal-Mart do this? To paraphrase Goetz and Swaminathan, by displacing workers from higher-paid jobs in the retailers it drives out of business, by providing lower levels local philanthropy than the replaced businesses, and by reducing the number of independent local businesses, thus shrinking the pool of local leadership.
You want more? I have it.
If you already agree with me that Wickenburg is in dire need of good-paying jobs to attract younger, year-round residents, consider the findings of a University of California at Berkeley study, “Hidden Cost of Wal-Mart Jobs: Use of Safety Net Programs by Wal-Mart Workers in California” (PDF) by Arindrajit Dube and Ken Jacobs:
We estimate that Wal-Mart workers in California earn on average 31 percent less than workers employed in large retail as a whole…In addition, 23 percent fewer Wal-Mart workers are covered by employer-sponsored health insurance than large retail workers as a whole….At these low-wages, many Wal-Mart workers rely on public safety net programs—such as food stamps, Medi-Cal, and subsidized housing—to make ends meet.
Given its staggering size and rapid expansion, Wal-Mart increasingly sets the standard for wages and benefits throughout the U.S. economy. “Americans can’t live on a Wal-Mart paycheck,” says Greg Denier, communications director for the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW). “Yet it’s the dominant employer, and what they pay will be the future of working America.” The average hourly worker at Wal-Mart earns barely $18,000 a year at a company that pocketed $6.6 billion in profits last year. Forty percent of employees opt not to receive coverage under the company’s medical plan, which costs up to $2,844 a year, plus a deductible.
Is that the kind of employer we need in Wickenburg?
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Do a Google Search for “Wal-Mart impact on small towns” to get a long list of documents that discuss this important issue.
Personally, I think the people who want a big box store like Wal-Mart in town are selfish and cheap. I think they should be ashamed of themselves for preferring to support a gigantic retail monster like Wal-Mart rather than the small local businesses who are struggling to survive in Wickenburg’s seasonal economy. If more local people would shop in Wickenburg, we’d have more businesses in Wickenburg to meet their needs. We wouldn’t need a Wal-Mart. And we could help keep Wickenburg from losing its small-town charm.
(Of course, that’s a whole other battle to be fought.)
Are you against a Wal-Mart or other big box store coming to Wickenburg as much as I am? You can stop it. Here’s how:
- Vote. Do your homework on the candidates running for Mayor and council. See how they stand on this issue. And then follow through on election day by voting for the candidate who feels the way you do.
- Make a public stand. Keep track of the agendas for upcoming Town Council and Planning and Zoning meetings. You can find both of them on the Town of Wickenburg’s Web site. You can even go to this page to have meeting notices e-mailed to you! Then attend the meetings and make your voice heard!
- Get advice from the pros. Visit these Web sites: WalMartWatch.com, Sprawl-busters.com, AgainstTheWal.com, WakeUpWalMart.com, and Arizonans Against Wal-Mart (stopazwalmarts.com).
Think you can’t stand up against a giant like Wal-Mart? Think again. Read the “Challenging Wal-Mart” article on the PBS Online NewsHour Web site to learn about the other communities that fought back — and won.
Last 5 posts by John Aabbott
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- Your Vote Can Stop the Selling Off of Wickenburg - September 1st, 2006
- Wickenburg Restaurant Sales Tax Second Highest in Arizona - April 29th, 2006
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