By Brent Musson
Walmart is the most successful brick-and-mortar retailer in America; with, arguably, the worst reputation. When news breaks that Walmart’s coming, local businesses immediately organize the underground resistance; but is that a fair reaction? Walmart could be just what the doctor ordered.
Walmart’s PR problem
The 2005 anti-Walmart documentary “The High Cost of Low Price,” tells heart-wrenching stories: family businesses destroyed; former Walmart employees on food stamps… Grass roots movements sprouted across America, to resist the Walmart invasion. Unions complain about wages; women about gender discrimination, Chambers of Commerce about scorched earth business practices; still, Walmart is the most popular store in America—check the register receipts. A controversial MIT Economics Department study by Dr. Leighton Kille claimed Walmart’s rapid expansion in the 1980-90s was responsible for 40-50% of the decline in small discount stores. The standard Chamber response is, “We don’t want a Walmart big box store to come kill our town.”
Walmart to the Rescue!
Walmart Neighborhood Market (WNM) is tailor-made for the critics: when critics say, “You shouldn’t have such big stores,” Walmart says, “WNM is one third the size of Kroger or Safeway—when critics say, “You drive mom and pop stores out of business,” Walmart asks, “How? WNMs only carry groceries.”
Let me guess, you’re still not getting the warm and fuzzies for Walmart (…yet.)
So why does Walmart puts so much effort into fighting protestors to place their undersized stores? Pay close attention—the key to the why is mostly about the where… WNMs are strategically placed in failing retail areas, which seems counterintuitive; but it’s worth it, to show that WNMs can be good (actually great) for local business. Unlike Kroger, Safeway or even Trader Joe’s, Walmart has an ulterior motive to see local businesses do well. WNM is more of a PR tool than a business model.
This is why the Chamber of Commerce should fall in love with Walmart
Forget that it’s Walmart for a moment and think in generic terms: a storefront has been empty for so long that empty is the new normal; the entire area is doomed to retail failure …then comes Walmart, spending $3-5 million on a brand new Market. In the lease, they require the landlord to spruce up the entire shopping center, which, along with increased foot traffic, attracts new tenants. Walmart gets an image boost and your business district gets a vitality boost.
What happened in MY neighborhood…
I’m a councilman in Altadena, CA. A WNM recently opened on the Lincoln Corridor, in the district I represent and where I’ve lived for most of my life. When I took office, West Altadena was in bad shape. Even 99¢ Only Stores wouldn’t come… Walmart saw a PR opportunity and invested $3.5 million into a vacant storefront and opened a modern grocery store in the middle of our blight.
Vocal opponents vehemently opposed it with a grassroots movement, knocking on doors and screening anti-Walmart videos, but WNM opened to much anticipation. Of the 65 new jobs, 40+ were local Altadena residents. Three new businesses have opened directly across the street, and the county has underwritten our grant for fascia improvements on the Lincoln corridor. The WNM has revitalized a dying commercial district, reversing blight and breathing life into economic development. Walmart’s PR department has a lot to brag about, but so does the Chamber!
Before you poo-poo Walmart Neighborhood Market, think it through. It could be the best thing for your run down business district since sidewalks.
I live in Altadena since 1972 and have served as a member of the Town Council since 2011.
Schulz, David. “TOP 100 RETAILERS 2015.” National Retail Federation. National Retail Federation, 1 July 2015. Web. 29 Oct. 2015. <https://nrf.com/news/top-100-retailers-2015, https://nrf.com/2015/top100-table>.
McFadden, Robert, and Angela Macropoulos. “Wal-Mart Employee Trampled to Death.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 28 Nov. 2008. Web. 29 Oct. 2015. <http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/29/business/29walmart.html?>.
Kennedy, Gene. “Woman Knocked Down, Trampled at Wal-Mart during Black Friday Frenzy.” FOX13 Salt Lake City. KSTU, A Tribune Broadcasting Station, 30 Nov. 2013. Web. 29 Oct. 2015. <http://fox13now.com/2013/11/29/woman-knocked-down-trampled-at-wal-mart-during-black-friday-frenzy/>.
Kille, Leighton Walter. “The Impact of Big-box Retailers on Communities, Jobs, Crime, Wages and More: Research Roundup.” Journalist’s Resource. Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center and the Carnegie-Knight Initiative, 15 Jan. 2015. Web. 29 Oct. 2015. <http://journalistsresource.org/studies/government/municipal/impact-big-box-retailers-employment-wages-crime-health>.
Jia, Panle. “What Happens When Wal-Mart Comes to Town: An Empirical Analysis of the Discount Retailing Industry.” Econometrica 76.6 (2008): 1263-316. Print.
Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price. Dir. Robert Greenwald. Retail Project L.L.C., 2005. Film.
Executive Director, Community Development Commission. “Minutes of the Board of Supervisors, County of Los Angeles, State of California.” Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. 23 Jan. 2002. Web. 29 Oct. 2015. <http://bos.co.la.ca.us/SOP_Final_Act/04072302-34.pdf>.
Miller, Jim. “California Launches Successor to Enterprise Zone Program.” Sacbee. The Sacramento Bee, 24 Feb. 2014. Web. 5 Nov. 2015.
Lee, Wendy. “Altadena Walmart a Year Later: Some Small Competitors Thrive, Others Fail.” 89.3 KPCC. Southern California Public Radio, 15 Apr. 2014. Web. 5 Nov. 2015.
For submission at: www.WashingtonPost.com/wp-srv/opinions/op-ed/submit
My name is Councilman Brent Musson. I represent a constituent district of Altadena, CA where a WNM was opened in 2012. The project was met with great resistance from some members of the local business community, but eventually prevailed.
None of the critics’ “sky is falling” rhetoric proved true; in fact, since the market opened the entire business corridor has seen a measurable revitalization. I’m not a fan or critic of Walmart, but facts are facts; and, the fact is, WNM has been good for West Altadena and I’m betting local businesses near proposed Neighborhood Market sites want to read my story as much as I want to tell it.
Councilman Brent Musson