In an attempt to keep abreast of what’s going on in our neighborhood, we recently joined an online community that consists of a bunch of message-boards upon which people–many of whom seemingly have nothing else to do all day long–post a lot of messages. Most of these conversations are sort of useless; people looking for upholstery specialists or plumbers, that type of thing. Every now and then, though, we learn an interesting bit of local gossip. Lately, for instance, lots of people have written vitriolic messages against the potential opening of a Wal-Mart down the street, in what is now a huge, abandoned lot.
This comment is indicative of most of the comments:
I keep hoping Wal-Mart never comes. Much rather have smaller diverse and interesting shops.
Now of course, in theory, so would I. Who wouldn’t, right? If you could choose between interesting Mom-and-Pop type stores, places that cater to all the little niche markets of a neighborhood, and a big-box retail store like Wal-Mart, it’s probably a no-brainer.
Wal-Marts are dingy and dark. They are monotonous, and tend to attract the wrong crowd. Then there are questions of morality to consider: Wal-Mart’s recent choice to cut health care for part-time workers, raises eyebrows, as does the way it undercuts local stores who have worked hard to carve out business.
The thing is, though, Wal-Mart is one of the only businesses that wants to develop that big abandoned lot in our neighborhood. The Neighborhood Association has been trying for the past two years to convince Mom and Pop stores to pop in, but to no avail. And when it comes to the moral questions, well, the answers are more complicated than many seem to acknowledge. Wal-Mart may not be so bad after all.
For those who want small, diverse stores, it is perfectly easy to go north to Charles Village, west to Hampden, or south to Station North and Mt. Vernon. It’s not so easy, though, to find affordable groceries or home maintenance supplies, or cheap technology locally. Ideology aside, a Wal-Mart would serve those needs. Many of the people who live in this part of town could use a place to go to buy affordable produce, milk, clothes, hammers, computers, and all the other various items that one easily finds at Wal-Mart, when there are few cars, no time, and little money to trek all over the city tracking those items down.
I understand all of the popular arguments against Wal-Mart, and I’m not immune to those arguments. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need Wal-Mart. But right now, and right here, it’s at least worth considering that it can be a positive force in an imperfect neighborhood.
As this study shows, when a Wal-Mart moves into the area, the people in the area buy more fresh vegetables and fruit because it’s accessible and because it’s affordable. As this study shows, when a Wal-Mart moves into the area, homes values go up by approximately 2-3%. Knowing all this, and knowing that a significant portion of our neighborhood would greatly benefit from Wal-Mart, and knowing that no interesting, family-run businesses are lining up to set up shop, why are we so against the addition of a Wal-Mart?
* Plenty of people don’t shop at Wal-Mart because of how it treats it employees. It’s interesting to note, however, that Amazon is worse.