Yesterday I maintained that the Wal-Mart debate would benefit if everyone could fess up to who will pay for the big-box ban. Today’s premise is more debatable, but I will give a shot anyway: I just don’t think that Wal-Mart superstores are the huge threat they are made out to be.
For starters, Wal-Mart’s ability to instantly crush all businesses within a 20-mile radius is a bit overblown. To the extent that competing businesses can offer something that Wal-Mart can’t – specialization, customer service, lack of crowds, and aisles that aren’t strewn with clutter all come to mind – then some people will choose to shop at those businesses. And if a competing businesses can’t find something to offer over Wal-Mart, should that competitor really be given what amounts to a government subsidy? But I digress. The point is that while a Wal-Mart superstore would certainly put pressure on other businesses, those businesses would hardly be helpless.
Regardless, it’s not as if the existence of a superstore would represent such a sweeping change. San Diegans are already free to shop at any number of huge chain stores, including Costco, Target, Vons, Ralphs (the latter two of which are owned by retail conglomerates Safeway and Kroger, respectively). Not to mention all those “regular” Wal-Marts. Given our abundance of big-chain retailers, I just don’t see how a Wal-Mart that sells groceries is going to single-handedly usher in a new era of corporate plutocracy. It’s simply not that different from what we already have.
The ban’s supporters have raised some valid points, but the characterization of the big-box retailer as a unique and intractable economic threat is not one of them.
– RICH TOSCANO