A Lesson from Boston: Communities Can Win
Posted on June 20, 2012 by jway
Walmart recently announced that it will abandon plans to build two new stores in the Boston area after community groups rallied to demonstrate their disapproval of the big-box retailer’s impact on small businesses, noise levels, traffic and workers.
The community groups that worked to hold the company accountable, including Sustainable Watertown and the Somerville Coalition for a Responsible Walmart, are counting the company’s U-turn as a big, gratifying win.
The company has tried to put its own spin on the announcement. Walmart spokesman Steve Restivo went out of his way to emphasize that the change in plans occurred because the stores no longer make sense “from a business perspective.” This is a complete change of tone from Walmart’s message just months ago, when company representatives had painted its plans for the two stores as opportunities to selflessly serve local customers and claimed that these customers would “vote with their feet” regardless of local opposition.
Somerville and Watertown aren’t the only towns where local groups have recently succeeded in pushing Walmart to either change its ways or stay out. In Exeter, PA, Walmart pulled out of plans to build a store in April after it failed to obtain the necessary permits. The local grassroots organization, Exeter First, was worried about the effects of a new Walmart in Exeter, including traffic congestion, closing of small businesses and the loss of a small-town feel. Although Walmart claimed that it had been “unable” to obtain the permits needed, Wyoming, PA Mayor Bob Boyer had a different opinion. He told local press that he thought Walmart had stopped pursuing the store because of local requirements that the company clean up its own mess by investing in intersection reconfiguration plans in order to mitigate the traffic congestion the store would have caused.
In March, the local Planning Commission in Ukiah, CA, denied Walmart’s proposed expansion of a local Walmart, “saying a 24-hour supercenter would harm other businesses, create traffic hazards and increase demands on the police department.” One Commissioner commented on the decision by saying that “the environmental impacts are so severe, it (was) not worth the tradeoffs.” In hearings leading up to the decision, employees of Lucky, a nearby store, testified that “their market would close and they would lose their jobs. Some said they’d also lose their homes.” The local press also reported that Lucky pays its employees roughly twice as much as Wal-Mart workers are paid, according to Walmart’s opponents.
This post was written by Rebecca Cassler.