I felt like ranting about big business in this country. I'm tired of hearing about Exxon and Texaco making multi-billion dollar profits while 38 million people in this country can barely afford to take their family to McDonald's once a year. Anyway, I stumbled across this paper that I wrote a couple of years ago about Wal-Mart that I thought so of you might find entertaining. I even have a Works Cited! LOL...
Recently, I found myself in desperate need of a fan. I couldn’t survive another night without the calming whirr and gentle breeze I’ve always slept with. So, disregarding my overwhelming dread, my strenuous inhibitions and my utter lack of motivation, I tied my laces extra tight, wore double-padded socks, and put my game face on—I was headed into the jungle. I was headed to Wal-Mart.
The Supercenter isn’t far away. In fact, you can see it from my house. Wal-Mart even built a second store, about the same distance from me, in the other direction. And yet, my errand will take the better part of an hour. I shudder as I pull into the parking lot, as I make way through the pitfalls of jaywalkers and flying shopping carts, and as I attempt to find a parking spot within eyesight of the red, white and blue logo of the Supercenter. I bite my tongue as one clerk after another redirects me through the labyrinth of aisles. I don’t even scream when only two of 347 checkout lines are open. I suffer all of this because of that little yellow tag above the generic fan I find on the bottom shelf—the tag that tells me the price has been "Rolled Back" from $10.34 to $9.88. I stroll through one of the six sliding double-doors, return the smile of the pleasant lady by the door, and see a sign with the picture of a smiling Sam Walton and the ever-present tagline: "Always Low Prices! Always." I endure it all for the satisfaction of knowing that I got the cheapest price possible.
In nearly every township, village, city or metropolis in the country you will find those "Always Low Prices" at a 150,000 square foot Wal-Mart Supercenter. People fight the traffic and the hassles and they stand in infinite lines to save 10 cents on toothpaste or 2 dollars on cereal—after all, those pennies add up. But there are still a few places left that value quality of life over pennies. There are literally hundreds of court battles being fought across the country to keep the so-called "Big-Box Retailers," such as Wal-Mart, out of small towns (Woolner). Al Norman, a retail consultant, estimates that one out of every three Wal-Marts faces community opposition (Woolner). One such battle is being fought in Woodland Park.
For years Woodland Park has been a small mountain town, relying heavily on tourism from the skiers headed farther up the pass. As Highway 24 turns into Main Street and takes you through Woodland Park’s humble downtown, you pass small shops such as the Donut Mill (a place with the best biscuits and gravy on the planet), stores simply called "Barber Shop," and a rustic strip mall that blends in with the tall pine trees and the beautiful backdrop of Pikes Peak. But in the last couple years, Woodland Park has seen tremendous growth. Being only 20 minutes from Colorado Springs, Woodland Park has become an ideal spot for people tired of living in the city, but who need to be within driving distance for work or entertainment.
The growth of Woodland Park can be seen on one visit through town. Even as you enter the city now, the first building you come across is a brand-new Safeway—beaming white and harshly out of place. Additionally, there is construction all through town widening Main Street to four full lanes. They even have now, not one, but two Starbucks. This growth has attracted the ever-watchful eye of big business looking for new markets to exploit. Wal-Mart is one such business.
Wal-Mart is in the process of buying a 50-acre plot of land just outside of Woodland Park. The plan is to build a 150,000-200,000 square foot Supercenter. Up to this point Woodland Park has remained free of so-called "Big-Box Retailers," both because of population requirements and local opposition. Now that Wal-Mart is moving forward with its plans, residents have formed a group called Citizens for Responsible Growth to fight the retail giant (Hughes, B-05).
Not everyone is against the idea, however. Local business owners who sell goods and services not provided at Wal-Mart believe the store will boost their sales (Hughes, B-05). Others simply look forward to the convenience afforded by a Wal-Mart Supercenter. "It's a very divided issue," City Manager Mark Fitzgerald said. "It's hard to project majorities, but my sense is ... we will hear from a significant portion of the community that would be in favor of this kind of development as well" (Hughes, B-05). The community members in favor of Wal-Mart’s plan need to forget about the bottom line and consider what a Supercenter will do to their quality of life.
The small, uniquely rustic feel of Woodland Park, coupled with its close proximity to Colorado Springs, has made it a desirable locale. A massive warehouse and sprawling parking lot would destroy the isolated feel that the town has been able to preserve up until now. As small towns are increasingly gobbled up by growing cities, or commercialized by retail giants, towns such as Woodland Park have the opportunity to stand out as different—a difference that is welcomed by those of us in the city that have to see the same name brands and logos everywhere we go, every day of our lives. More importantly, however, this difference is appreciated by people who don’t want to live that city life at all. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ron Powers noted: "I think when we lose our sense of community we lose a lot of other things that are important to life like the sense of accountability, a sense of purpose, a sense of what makes life rich other than getting and spending and controlling" (Carol, J1).
One of the main reasons that a store like Wal-Mart hurts a sense of community is its adverse effect on local small businesses. "Barbara Carpenter, head of Local 1179 of the United Food and Commercial Workers, says two supermarkets are shut down by the opening of each Supercenter" (Burress, A-15). Woodland Park only has two supermarkets currently. Furthermore, The Dayton Daily News recently ran a story called "Big-Box Retailers Prove Too Strong for Local Garden Center," that chronicled a small garden center being forced to close (Perisie, A11). The article stated: "These big box stores have wreaked havoc on the Dayton small business community" (Perisie, A11). The Chattanooga Times Free Press had this to say of Big-Box Retailers: "They run small retailers and mom-and-pop shops out of business...they cannibalize smaller retail growth and inhibit innovation and variety" (Chattanooga Times Free Press, B6). Small business closures and the "cannibalization" of the small town traditions are not good for Woodland Park.
Although providing a number of jobs, Wal-Marts often end up costing the community in other ways. For one, the 400-500 jobs will take away employees from the local businesses that need the manpower to survive. Furthermore, a House committee in California released a report in February of 2004 detailing some further costs of a Supercenter. The committee reported that a regular Wal-Mart, not a Supercenter, with only 200 employees would cost taxpayers $420,750 a year. These costs come from subsidized medical care, housing and other state programs given to employees of Wal-Mart who are unable to provide these necessities for themselves. It was also found that Wal-Mart employees made an average of 10 percent less than their counterparts in the unionized supermarkets (Burress, A-15). Additionally, one Wal-Mart location can bring up to 16,000 extra trips down a freeway, creating the need for expanded roads and infrastructure (Chattanooga Free Times Press, B6). All of which are costs and headaches that the city of Woodland Park could do without.
There are other ethical and moral questions surrounding Wal-Mart. The company has been accused of working the majority of its employees part-time in order to escape paying benefits (Woolner). Wal-Mart has also been accused of spying on and squelching any attempt by its employees to unionize (Burress, A-15). The company’s political views have even led to censorship of music, movies and books (Gardner, 12).
Those of us that live in the bigger cities have felt the negative effects of Wal-Marts, and other big business. The big-box retailing giants have turned most cities in America into replicated strip malls and warehouses. If you want a CD, you go to Best Buy; if you want clothes, you go to the mall; if you’re finishing your basement, you go to Home Depot; if you need anything else, you go to Wal-Mart. You go to each place because you know they each will have the largest selection for the cheapest price. I do it too.
But you know, there is one place I go that doesn’t have a neon sign and a witty advertising slogan. I’ve gotten my hair cut by the same guy since I was 14. He used to live right up the street from us. He owns a salon on the other side of town and he charges me $25 for my haircut (a 10% discount, I might add). And the only way I’ll stop going to Mike is if he retires, or dies. He knows my family and me, he knows generally what’s going on with my life and we shoot the breeze about movies and girls and cars. I wouldn’t give that up for a $7 haircut at Wal-Mart if I were down to my last twenty-five bucks.
The people of Woodland Park have that relationship with their small businesses. They know the guy that cuts there hair or waxes their car, they smile at each other and ask about the kids and send cards and even give things away every now and then. It is the identity of the small town. An identity that too often gets lost in the dollar signs.
For the people that can’t forget the dollar signs, there’s a Wal-Mart just down Highway 24 in Colorado Springs. The Supercenter carries the same fan I bought, for the same "Rolled Back" price, with the same picture of Sam Walton just as happy as ever.
Burress, Charles. "Wal-Mart foes detail cost to community." The San Francisco Chronicle 17 Feb. 2004: A-15.
Carroll, Felix. "Paradise lost." The Times Union [Albany, New York] 16 Jan. 2005: J1.
Editorial. "The cost of big-box 'growth'." Chattanooga Times Free Press [Tennessee] 27 Nov. 2004: B6.
Gardner, Marilyn. "Parents say Wal-Mart hit wrong note." The Christian Science Monitor 20 Dec. 2004: 12.
Hughes, Jim. ": Woodland Park expects retailer fight As in other Colorado cities, Wal-Mart's intentions to open a store are countered by residents opposed to big-box expansion." The Denver Post 27 Dec. 2004: B-05.
Perisie, Steve. "Big box retailers a problem." Dayton Daily News 19 Feb. 2005: A11.
Woolner, Ann. "Let Me Count the Ways People Don't Love Wal-Mart: Ann Woolner." Bloomberg News 13 Feb. 2004.