Thursday, February 03, 2011

Another town struggles with Wal-Mart's arrival

Tehachapi, Calif., population just over 12,000, is "the latest in a long line of rural communities grappling with how to maintain their small-town character while at the same time encouraging business growth." Walmart wants to come to town.

The local planning commission approved a site plan that would allow the retail giant to build a 165,000-square-foot supercenter and would create 300 jobs with an average hourly wage of $12.28. Christopher Zehnder, a member of Tehachapi First, a group organized to keep Walmart out of town, said of the newest store, "There's natural growth and then there's negative growth, like a cancerous tumor in the human body," he said. "This is like a cancer." Opponents fear the new Walmart will kill local stores and "a little bit of its soul," writes Courtney Edelhart for the Bakersfield Californian.

City officials seem to be supporting Walmart. Mayor Ed Grimes said competition is good for local retailers. "I've heard these arguments in every city Walmart has gone to," he said. "I think whether they fail is up to the people. Nobody's forcing you to shop there. If you like local stores, support them. If I were a business owner, I'd be fighting like heck to make my business more attractive and grow." Wal-Mart spokeswoman Amelia Neufeld said, "You need only drive by any of our other stores to see how Walmart fosters opportunities for other businesses. Walmart stores are actually a magnet for growth and development."

Charles Fishman, author of "The Wal-Mart Effect," said the concerns of opponents are not unfounded. Fishman says that generally Wal-Mart shoppers are buying things they usually buy, so they will just switch to the lowest possible price for the items. "I don't believe that local shops have a right to survive," Fishman said. "They have a right to compete for your business like anyone else. They're never going to be able to compete on price, but they can compete on service or selection or quality." (Read more)

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