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Just Say No to Wal-Mart in Wickenburg

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.

How about this from an article titled “Wal-Mart’s Impact on Local Police Costs” (PDF), published by HometownAdvantage.org:

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.

In a Mother Jones article titled “Up Against Wal-Mart,” author Karen Olsson reports:

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

18 comments to Just Say No to Wal-Mart in Wickenburg

  • Tom Fucili

    You are 100% correct. People who yearn for Wal-Mart, and Big-Box retailers in general, are myopic at best. It amazes me how many people still have not figured out that they are, in effect, shopping themselves out of a job.

    As our rural community got over-run by developments full of city people, the same cry for “better stores” arose. Now we have every damn Big-Box under the sun and traffic galore. I don’t support any of them with my purchases. I’ll drive miles out my way to go to an independent store trying to eek out a living just like me.

    I find the ultimate irony in seeing a truck with a “WORK UNION, LIVE BETTER” bumper sticker in the Wal-Mart parking lot. The owner walks out carrying a pair of boots made in China. Why not buy Red Wings made in Minnesota by his union brothers?!

    Wake up people! Shop local and everyone prospers.

  • Daryl Drake

    Not a defender of Walmart, but… it did announce it would no longer prosecute shoplifting $25 or less. Probably because it costs more than that to send employees to testify and cover their shifts.

    And, unfortunately, Wickenburg’s retail downtown is already moribund, due to high rents and lack of availability.

    I’m glad we have Alco! But will Congress get Walmart?

  • I am against a Walmart in Wickenburg! How foolish! It will absolutely destroy the ambiance of Wickenburg!
    I feel sorry for those of you who have lived in Wickenburg for a long time. You are now getting innundated with city people who should be living in Phoenix or Anthem..
    These city people will wreck your town.

  • natalie fraiberg


  • John Zerby

    I agree with everything you said about Wal-Mart. I don’t like what they do to smaller stores and what they stand for. I don’t like the fact that they are one of the largest companies in the world but yet it costs us tax payers to cover benefits for their employees.
    Ever since Sam Walton died and his family took over they are no longer “American” they out source everything. I would not be a supporter of a Wal-Mart in Wickenburg. EVER!

  • Tom Fucili

    I sincerely hope that once we move to Wickenburg there are enough “traditionalists” to ward off such parasitic enterprises.

  • I really hate to be a doomsayer — I swear! — but the way things are going, Wickenburg will be part of the Phoenix sprawl within a few short years. Developers are asking for high “roof count” developments and are are getting it from the current administration. Calamity Wash, the Wickenburg Country Club development, and the development on North Vulture Mine Road near West Wickenburg Way — all on the plans right now — are just three examples of our one-house-per-acre zoning conveniently forgotten in the name of “progress” and profit. Do you think all those new people will CARE about Wickenburg? Or will they just join in on the whining for big box shopping options here in town?

    I’m sure the town will find it easier to break new ground on huge stores one the edge of town than to do SOMETHING to bring retail back to life in downtown Wickenburg. Mr. Drake has it right: high rents and lack of availability. But he also left out two other factors: failure of the town and Chamber of Commerce to attract and support new retail businesses and failure of Wickenburg’s part-time residents to actually shop in town and support the businesses we have.

    Thanks for the article John. It was well researched and nicely written! Let’s hope your words didn’t fall on deaf ears.

  • Art Pulis

    Recent retail leakage surveys show that a lot of Wickenburg residents travel to the Wal-Mart in Surprise to shop. We can wring our hands all we want and complain that they should be more patriotic, but I doubt their behavior will change. So, I have a simple question. Is it better to have the Wal-Mart in Surprise where they enjoy the sales-tax revenue, or is it better to have it in Wickenburg where we enjoy the sales-tax revenue for more police, paid fire department, and higher salaries for our town employees?

  • Tom Fucili

    When they built a Wal-Mart in our township there was no windfall when you net it all out. Off the record, public servants will tell you that the taxes do not offset the quantity of time spent rousting shoplifters, attendind to traffic accidents, etc. My taxes continue to spiral out of sight, and the resultant lessening of my quality of life in what used to be a rural area are not what I consider progress.

  • Daryl Drake

    As gas prices keep rising, WalMart Surprise will be less attractive. And Family Dollar, Dollar General and Alco will be there in Wickenburg to send any corporate profits out of town, out of state. But then, don’t ask me to open an undercapitalized dry goods store in the desert!

  • Norma Hamilton

    Fourteen years ago I moved to North Ranch and started learning about the shopping situation in Wickenburg. Local people told me to go to “Bell Road”. Where? Well I learned where. After about a year of shopping, running to Wickenburg and then on down to Bell Road Walmart at 59th Ave, I said there’s got to be a way to get my stuff in Wickenburg. I figured I just didn’t know the shops well enough. So I started learning the reality: I still had to go to Bell Road.

    Now, however, I know the merchants, many by first names, and realize they have greatly improved the shopping situation. It’s fourteen years later and I rarely need to go to Walmart since much is here. I am glad we now have the Family Dollar and the rapidly improving Congress Grocery Store and will soon have a new gas station in Congress. It saves on the $3 gas. But many times, when I do get into a Walmart (Surprise or Prescott) they don’t have what is on my list.

    Hey, Wickenburg and Congress, you’re doing great!!! Keep up the good work!!!

  • I can’t think of anything that Wal-Mart sells that isn’t available in Wickenburg. And even if there were, is it worth it to drive out all of the other retailers? Also, do we really want to double the size of Wickenburg because of the promise of cheap goods?? The candidates for Town Council all say they’ll listen to the voters when it comes to growth. Yet I hear horrible rumors every day about our pristine hills becoming some developers next project. We’ll see soon if the candidates are listening. Unfortunately it might be too late.

  • […] Full-length articles are what can set your blog apart from others. These articles represent your thoughts and ideas, your opinions and viewpoints. They can provide instructions for completing tasks (as many of my articles do here for various computer software programs), provide news and opinion about current events locally or worldwide, or tell a story about the weird thing that happened to you on your last day off. A full-length article can be all original material or can combine bits and pieces of other material, drawn together solely to provide background information or strengthen your viewpoint. (One of my favorite opinion pieces is by John Aabbott, who occasionally writes for wickenburg-az.com; in “Just Say No to Wal-Mart in Wickenburg“, he argues about why Wickenburg should not have a Wal-Mart, using lots of quotes and online references to make his point.) […]

  • sarah

    half of the reason people in this town are pro walmart is because the trips to Bashas and Safeway are killing us!!! with the gas you spend getting to walmart you might as well shop here in wickenburg. if there was a store that had prices LIKE walmart in our town we would be happy. dont forget the next generation, our kids. where can kids get clothes in this town? 30 dollars or more for jeans at alco…. 12 dollars for jeans at walmart…. people are more focused on what they want the town to look like, than they are meeting the needs of the people. i understand this is a historic town and we want to keep it that way, but should pride be more important than the families that live here? another thing…. i personally know families that have little more than the clothes on thier back. tell me, how much did it cost to put the bipass in? to save the five minutes that it takes to sit at the red light because of all the traffic? how much did it cost to re do all of our sidewalks so that they are a pretty pink or red? how much did it cost to put the gravel and trees around in front of the stores? after seeing all this i just wonder…. why dont we have a soup kitchen? why dont we have a place for people to sleep with beds and blankets, insted of under bridges and in washes?

  • sarah

    ps the only sizes at the dollar stores are really really big or really really small. i can never find clothes that fit my 6 year old. and the sneakers for kids at alco are over 30 dollars. and as for me, shoes in my size are never at either store. soroptomist only has what other people give, sometimes you find what you need, sometimes you dont. i have lived here for over 2 years and almost always i am dissapointed that the stores in this town will not fit my family, in size and in budget.

  • Allan Hall

    Actually, I have no problem with having a Walmart in Wickenburg. It doesn’t really matter whether you ‘like’ Walmart or not.

    When you consider the per capita income of local citizens and the cost of driving to Surprise to purchase products that are not available (or that are overpriced) in town, a Walmart would be highly beneficial. Lower driving costs, lower prices, improved access to products. That means there would be a higher retention of local income that becomes available for discretionary spending in town.

    Who are the loosers if Walmart builds a site in Wickenburg? The tourist traps won’t suffer. The fast food places and restaurants won’t suffer. Remuda certainly won’t suffer.

    Safeway, Basha’s, the pharmacys and hardware stores will have to lower their outrageous prices to compete, but that’s about it. Personally, I would like to see Home Depot or Lowes come to town as well.

    It is just a matter of time – these businesses will eventually be in Wickenburg. But, before that occurs they will build stores in Morristown as growth moves toward us. And, as these outlets move in our direction, the economic constraint (fuel cost and time) will continue to diminish for local residents.

    I think it is past time for the Wickenburg government and citizens to rethink their long standing opposition to Walmart and other big box stores. In truth, the ‘citizens’ of town have been voting with their gas pedal for a very long time. Additionally, a big box store will draw shoppers from as far north as Peeples Valley and west to beyond Aguila. It is inconceivable that the city fathers don’t see the value of this supplemental source of sales tax.

    My only concern is whether Walmart will build a 24-hour Super Center or only a smaller facility.

  • I’m actually against Wal-Mart, at least in general principle. Local availability of cheap crap made in China might help us fill our homes with disposable goods at lower prices, but Wal-Mart is a poor employer and it will destroy any competing businesses in a small community like ours.

    Sadly, I had higher hopes for Wickenburg than the weak and crumbling economy it has shown over the past ten years. But since Wickenburg is unable to support businesses that make a Wal-Mart unnecessary, it may as well have one.

    We don’t plan on living here much longer anyway.

  • […] opinion pieces is by John Aabbott, who occasionally writes for wickenburg-az.com; in “Just Say No to Wal-Mart in Wickenburg“, he argues about why Wickenburg should not have a Wal-Mart, using lots of quotes and online […]