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Waldron My Turn: Walmart?

First get the facts, then make a decision

As the June 10 election in our community approaches, I have noted that at least one candidate for town council proudly advocates growing Greenfield by encouraging the siting of a big box store here. Let’s hope that, regardless of the outcome of this election, the positions of the candidates around this issue act as a catalyst for continuing a thoughtful, informed discussion about what it would mean to this community to have a large multidepartment retail chain store with headquarters in a faraway state (OK, Walmart) in our town.

This debate is played out in communities everywhere. There are well-established studies that document the effects of these stores on the Main Street businesses of towns like Greenfield. But the effects go much further. As I clearly take a side on this issue, allow me to summarize just a few of the many studies that should form the basis of a vigorous debate among the citizenry. Citations for studies quoted can be obtained by contacting me.

Effect on our local business community: “The opening of a Wal-Mart on the West Side of Chicago in 2006 led to the closure of about one-quarter of the businesses within a four-mile radius, according to this study by researchers at Loyola University. They tracked 306 businesses, checking their status before Wal-Mart opened and one and two years after it opened. More than half were also surveyed by phone about employees, work hours and wages. By the second year, 82 of the businesses had closed. Businesses within close proximity of Wal-Mart had a 40 percent chance of closing. The probability of going out of business fell 6 percent with each mile away from Wal-Mart. These closures eliminated the equivalent of 300 full-time jobs, about as many Wal-Mart added to the area.”

Costs to our town: “These studies find that the cost of providing big-box stores with city services — road maintenance, police, fire, etc. — can exceed the local tax revenue generated by these stores, resulting in a net loss to taxpayers.” This is compounded by the fact that Walmart has a history of challenging its tax assessments.

Where the money you spend goes: 1) “Three times as much money stays in the local economy when you buy goods and services from locally owned businesses instead of large chain stores, according to this analysis, which tracked the revenue and expenditures of eight locally owned businesses in Midcoast Maine.”

2) “On a dollar-for-dollar basis, the local economic impact of independently owned businesses is significantly greater than that of national chains, this study concludes. Analyzing data collected from 28 locally owned retail businesses in Portland, Maine, along with corporate filings for a representative national chain, the researchers found that every $100 spent at locally owned businesses contributes an additional $58 to the local economy. By comparison, $100 spent at a chain store in Portland yields just $33 in local economic impact.”

Wages/benefits: “Studies have found that big-box retailers, particularly Wal-Mart, are depressing wages and benefits for retail employees, and that median incomes have risen faster in places with more small businesses compared to those dominated by big businesses … About 900,000 Wal-Mart workers, or 65 percent of its U.S. workforce, are paid less than $12 an hour. More than one-fifth earn less than $9 an hour. Overall, Wal-Mart’s hourly workers earn 12.4 percent less than retail workers as a whole.” Additionally, Walmart has repeatedly quashed efforts by its employees to organize.

Jobs: It’s a potent and persuasive word. But expecting a big box store to economically energize our town is really magical thinking. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand that our master plan’s stated goals, one of which is: “Greenfield provides living wage jobs and a resilient and sustainable local economy to support and expand traditional and innovative business development” could not be achieved with a Walmart-type store in our midst.

Talk to your candidates. Let them know where you stand on this issue. If they are elected, they represent you. If an elected town council member promotes the siting of a Walmart in our town, he or she had better assess the level of support for that position in the business community and among residents. Vote for the candidate who you think will best speak for you, but also vote with your hard-earned dollars. We are fortunate to have a healthy array of locally owned businesses and farms. Support them. They make us unique, and we could use more of them. Tourists will not flock here if our downtown is decimated and all our stores are the same as everyone else’s. Every dollar you spend and every vote you cast shapes the community you live in.

Lynn Waldron is a software writer and folk/hospice singer living in Greenfield. She can be reached at lynnw99@gmail.com.

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