Utah activists parade against big chain stores
Dressed up as a giant green elf, University of Utah student Robbie Rich pushed his shopping cart through the streets of downtown Salt Lake City.
Inside the cart rode a scrawny-looking Santa Claus - Brigham Young University student Tristan Call - his lap full of small Styrofoam polar bears and penguins that he said he retrieved from a Dumpster behind a Provo craft store.
"This just goes to show how wasteful these big national retail chains can be," said Call as he held up his bag of animals. "This represents a lot of wasted energy that was just thrown into the trash."
Rich and Call were two of about six dozen activists who on Saturday afternoon paraded from the parking lot of the state liquor store at 200 West and 400 South to the City-County Building. The marchers' costumes may have been gaudy, but their message was simple: Big-box retailers such as Wal-Mart and Target are bad for communities, while small, locally owned shops are good.
Some people who stopped to watch the colorful procession, led by four marchers riding stick horses who were billed as the "Four Horsemen of the Shopocalypse," said they more or less agreed with the notion that consumers should buy locally.
"It is a lot easier to talk about than actually do, because you can't always find what you need at local stores," said Michael Smith of Salt Lake City, who pulled his bicycle to a stop to watch the parade as it neared the City-County Building. "You used to hear about how everybody should buy American, but that's kind of hard to do now, too."
But Kyle LaMalfa of the Salt Lake City's Peoples Market, which for the past two years has organized a farmer's market at the city's International Peace Gardens, said it is critical that consumers recognize the need to support local business owners.
"Our local businesses need us," he said. "The big chain stores take their profits and send them out of the community, while locally owned businesses take their profits and turn them into community prosperity."
Parade organizer Ashley Sanders said the Salt Lake City event was part of an international day of action against giant retailers organized by Big Box Collaborative. That Washington, D.C.-based group's Web site says it's composed of representatives from organized labor and environmental and other activist groups who want to transform the big-box retail industry, in particular Wal-Mart.
"Big-box stores impose enormous costs on our economy and our environment," Sanders said, while acknowledging that millions of Americans continue to patronize such establishments where they spend billions of dollars annually. "And we need to educate more people about the true costs those businesses impose." A recent poll conducted by The Salt Lake Tribune found that most Salt Lake City residents - 73 percent - want to limit how and where chain stores are built.
And in April, the Salt Lake City Council approved an ordinance restricting the size and look of chain stores in some neighborhoods.
The move, though, stopped short of an outright ban on chain stores, championed by Mayor Rocky Anderson for such distinct city neighborhoods as 9th and 9th and 15th and 15th.