I’ve paid several visits to the new Wal-Mart Superstore in Little Falls since it opened August 8, 2007.  If you haven’t been there yet, be prepared to be overwhelmed.  It’s HUGE and takes time to circumnavigate.  (You might want to bring a compass, although store maps are available upon entry.)

Wal-Mart is not new to Little Falls.  In July 1991, the company opened a store on the east edge of town and has done a brisk business, drawing customers from as far away as Long Prairie.  At the time it first opened, K-Mart was also considering entering the Little Falls business market, but that notion obviously fizzled.  Wal-Mart has had no competition from other big-box retailers in the Little Falls area.

Upon news of its expansion, there’s been grumbling about Wal-Mart in the community.  It’s less-than-friendly business practices have been covered in the media and include the following:

1.  Wal-Mart strong-arms its suppliers, demanding a 5% cut in costs every year until the suppliers can no longer afford to make their products.  Suppliers are forced to move their labor force overseas to meet Wal-Mart’s demands.  The other option is bankruptcy.  (Listen to this report on NPR featuring Charles Fishman (!) and Scott Simon.)

2.  Wal-Mart bans freedom of expression by carrying only edited versions of music CDs and by demanding that musicians change their album covers and lyrics in order to have their CDs sold in Wal-Mart stores.  Wal-Mart has become the biggest retail supplier of music CDs in the nation.

3.  Wal-Mart is anti-union, pays low wages, offers benefits that are of such high cost to employees that they can’t afford them, and can count a host of other employee abuses among its practices.  Fish Wrap’s Brooke Trout has covered some of this in her previous post.

4.  Wal-Mart tends to glut markets by putting up too many stores.  When a local market is saturated, Wal-Mart closes stores and leaves the buildings empty.

For more of Wal-Mart’s business practices, see “Store Wars:  When Wal-Mart Comes to Town” on PBS.  For fun you can compare what the company actually does (from the PBS & NPR reports) to what it says it does in its Standards for Suppliers.

With all of these negative factors associated with Wal-Mart, why would any community want one?  Let’s examine the issue from the point of view of one specific community, the one I’m most acquainted with, Little Falls, and consider the following question:

Under what circumstances does having a Wal-Mart seem like a good idea?

(To be continued . . . .)

With a shine in my scales,

P.F.A. Pickerel

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