February 26, 2007
Wal-Mart and the To Be Flat West Valley
Raise a mental hand if you knew that FAO-Schwarz went bankrupt. It kind of tugs at one’s heart strings to hear this icon of toy stores couldn’t survive after more than 140-years of existence. Does anyone know why a toy giant like FAO had to file for bankruptcy? Well, a number of things, but mainly it was big-box retail stores such as Target, Toys R Us, and the biggest of them all Wal-Mart, a company that according to Thomas L. Friedman author of The World is Flat: A Brief History of The Twenty-First Century, is helping planet earth become “Planet Flat.” Here in Yakima a proposed 203,819 square foot Wal-Mart Supercenter may be built in West Valley, on the southwest corner of Nob Hill Boulevard and South 64th Avenue to be exact. Not too far away from the Meadowbrook Mall, The Orchards Shopping Center [where Rosauers is] or Chalet Mall up a couple roads. If FAO-Schwarz can go bankrupt, then any of the stores in those areas can. A Wal-Mart in West Valley is not necessary because of the ever-growing population and its flourishing businesses in this community. When a Wal-Mart comes to a community it effects it greatly, and not always for the better.
In The World is Flat Friedman doesn’t necessarily give Wal-Mart a big pro v. con list of why it should or shouldn’t be in existence. He tells how it has helped shape the earth from round to flat however. The biggest way that Wal-Mart is flattening the earth is by improving supply-chaining. Supply chaining is basically a system, a very complex system which I can’t even fathom attempting to explain. Friedman however in the beginning of the supply-chaining section started the explanation:
Supply-chaining is a method for collaboration horizontally [or flat] – among suppliers, retailers, and customers – to create value. Supply-chaining is both enabled by the flattening of the world and a hugely important flattener itself…Wal-Mart today is the biggest retail company in the world, and it does not make a single thing. All it “makes” is a hyperefficient supply chain (152).
Wal-Mart does not have one big hub of a factory that is making or packaging stuff. It gets away with this by having trucks as their factory and, supply-chaining is cutting out the middle man.
Friedman explains Wal-Mart as having multiple identity disorder. It’s not just the company that has multiple identity disorder; he claims it’s also the individuals. Friedman tells us, “In the flat world, the tension among our identities as consumers, employees, citizens, taxpayers, and shareholders are going to come into sharper and sharper conflict” (249). I, as I’m sure many other West Valley residents, fall under consumer, citizens, taxpayer, and possible future employee. He describes the back and forth mental pull that we all feel towards Wal-Mart in the following way:
The Wal-Mart worker in us hates the limited benefits and low pay packages that Wal-Mart offers its starting employees. And the Wal-Mart citizen in us knows that because Wal-Mart, the biggest company in America, doesn’t cover all its employees with health care, some of them will just go to the emergency ward of the local hospital and the taxpayers will end up picking up the tab (251).
There is also the Wal-Mart shopper, who loves the low prices, no matter how they get that way.
Wal-Mart for all its flaws and arguable reputation, which I will get to later, does do some good for a community that it enters. One reason is that it saves customers money, in fact billions in dollars that may have been spent somewhere else or on something entirely different than retail purchases. According to a pro Wal-Mart website, “A 2005 Global Insight Study found that given the cumulative downward pressure on prices exerted by Wal-Mart between 1985 and 2004, the company last year saved US consumers $263 billion – or $2,239 per household.” This same website also states that, “Today, 100 million Americans shop at Wal-Mart each week. Thanks to Sam Walton’s [founder of Wal-Mart] quintessentially American vision, Wal-Mart is saving its US customers an estimated $16 billion a year, which they are free to save, invest, pay bills, or spend on something else.” Granted, one may argue that if you live in West Valley area you are not one that needs to shop at a Wal-Mart. Meaning, that if you live in West Valley or certain parts of West Valley you will most likely be stereotyped as being at least upper-middle class. However, the temptation to buy high quality products for so much less will appeal to anyone in any class range. High school graduates or community college students would be the people who would naturally work there. And with this proposed Wal-Mart being in a very close proximity to the West Valley High School and not to far from of a drive from Yakima Valley Community College, it makes way for many job opportunities.
A simple and true fact, Wal-Mart employs 1.2 million Americans by creating and filling 100,000 new positions this year; Wal-Mart is providing important and welcome employment opportunities. Where this proposed Wal-Mart would be built is at or less than five minutes away from West Valley High School. It will also be up the road form Yakima Valley Community College. Now, whether or not West Valley kids, in their BMW’s, will want to start working at Wal-Mart they won’t deny that they would like to make some cash. A new business in a community is always a good place to start. A Wal-Mart would get plenty of good business and people willing to work there if the proposed Supercenter is to be built. Besides employment opportunities Wal-Mart does assist people in getting above the poverty line. A pro Wal-Mart website supports this with the following:
When you create lots of entry-level opportunities, you are going to hire some people on public assistance. In this, Wal-Mart isn’t adding to the public burden but reducing is. For example, 7 percent of new Wal-Mart associates are enrolled in Medicaid before joining the company. After joining, the number drops to 5 percent. After two years, it falls to 3 percent (americansforwalmart.org).
There is a flip side to all these fan friendly numbers and reports, as there is to everything.
A Yakima Herald-Republic article written by Lia Steakley in 2005 covered a public hearing on the proposed Wal-Mart. The article states, “West Valley neighbors’ feelings about the proposed Wal-Mart are simple: They don’t want it.” Steve Cooper, a 10-year West Valley resident was at that hearing and he had this to say, “We don’t want you out there. This is a beautiful community here and I want it to stay that way. People are getting sick and tired of it. Take your doggone store and go.” I don’t want that store here either.
As stated previously West Valley is an ever growing community both in population and businesses. When a Wal-Mart marches into a town it hurts other businesses. Kenneth Stone gives us the following on its impact to a community:
Food stores in Mississippi lost 17 percent of their sales by the fifth year after a Wal-Mart Supercenter had come into their county, and retail stores lost 9 percent of their sales…Over the course of [a few years after Wal-Mart entered a community], retailers’ sales of apparel dropped 28 percent on average, hardware sales fell by 20 percent, and sales of specialty stores fell by 17 percent.
In West Valley we have many of those businesses in proximity, that already offer what a Wal-Mart can, what if they fall to the Wal-Mart bully? Our main retailer in the area is Shopko, which basically gives us what a Wal-Mart can, clothes, food, toys, entertainment, home and garden, etc. Rosaures, Safeway, and Wray’s Thriftway which has been locally owned for decades, provides the people in West Valley the groceries we need. With Rosaures and Safeway there is a sense of comfort because it’s northwest based and doesn’t frown at unions. Our hardware store, along with home and garden, is called Steins, which is a part of the Ace franchise. The Meadowbrook Mall, along with Wray’s and Steins, has a video rental store as well as specialty shops. Anyone of those may lose valuable, and loyal, business from West Valley residents. A Central Washington University Wal-Mart case study contends, “They have also voiced concerns that small businesses won’t be able to compete and are especially concerned that ‘Wal-Mart will harm already struggling local businesses.’” For local businesses to keep its customers they almost have to copy Wal-Mart’s style of business, even if they know they don’t have the power to do so. You lose your sales, you lose your business, thus losing your employees, and where do you think half of those employees will end up?
Yes, when a Wal-Mart comes to town it is creating new employment opportunities and helping with the family income. However, according to an article by Jim Hightower posted on an anti Wal-Mart digest site, points out, “By crushing local business, this giant eliminates three decent jobs for every two Wal-Mart jobs that it creates and a store full of part-time, poorly paid employees hardly builds the family wealth necessary to sustain a community’s middle-class living standard.” Once hired it is difficult to climb up the Wal-Mart ladder to even get to full-time status, because a full time employee would have to be given more benefits. Hightower also pointed out that, “The average employee makes only $15,000 a year full-time work. Most are denied even this poverty level income, for they’re held to part-time work. While the company brags that 70 percent of its workers are full-time, at Wal-Mart ‘full time’ is [at most] 34 hours a week, meaning they gross less than $11,000 a year.” The same CWU case study reports that, “according to a recent Harvard Business School Study, Wal-Mart spends $2,100 less per employee on healthcare than average U.S. companies.”
Labor law violations also provide an insight on how things are run at Wal-Mart stores. According to an article by Denis Collins, “An investigation by the state of Washington in 2000 found that Wal-Mart employees were not allowed to file for accident reports or Workers Compensation claims.” It’s almost like being in with the Mob; if you’re found to have said anything bad about them they will not be hesitant to perform illegal retaliation. This proposed Wal-Mart is going to be close to West Valley High School, shouldn’t be much concern except that according to the previous article, “Child Labor Internal audit of 128 stores during one week in July found 1,371 instances of minors working too late, during school hours, or too many hours in a day.” This isn’t a sweatshop case; this is in our own country. Yes, high school kids wouldn’t mind the chance at making some cash, but if I was a parent I would rethink letting my child work there.
Are low prices really worth the risk of damaging a community, “a beautiful community,” fellow West Valley resident Steve Cooper claims? What if Wray’s becomes our own FAO-Schwarz? Yakima already has one Wal-Mart; it doesn’t need two, especially in West Valley. West Valley is obviously doing well if fellow citizens are able to have a golf course as their front yard on Occidental Road. And whether Wal-Mart is helping flattening the world for the better is arguable, but if a town has one Wal-Mart it’s already flat enough. Thus West Valley is flat. With the sight of Wal-Mart trucks barreling down Nob Hill Boulevard, it doesn’t need to disappear.