Walsh: Wal-Mart is simply inevitable

Published September 16, 2008 12:07 am
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Wal-Mart is coming to my neighborhood.

And it's all my fault.

With my mother's "Is it made in China?" school-shopping veto ringing in my ears, I resisted the lure of the big yellow smiley-face for a long time.

Then I left my bag home on a trip to St. George a few years ago. It was either wash one outfit in the sink for five days or buy some cheap clothes at the nearest store - the Bloomington Wal-Mart. I swept through the clearance racks and got out of there as fast as I could.

But my no-Wal-Mart wall had been breached.

When my sister absolutely had to stop for diapers, I succumbed to $2 sippy cups made of questionable plastic. When I was in Fort Union running other errands, I picked up the Ben 10 video on sale. My last trip to St. George, I bought $2 earrings and $10 necklaces made of mystery metal.

I'm not a regular Wal-Mart shopper. I just have no willpower. Every time I go, I feel guilty. I look at the clerk and wonder if she's making a living wage. Do her children have health care? Has she been locked into the store overnight for restocking? Did her manager call her to a meeting this fall to scare her about Barack Obama's labor sympathies?

And then I slink out of the store.

Wal-Mart wants to tear down the 40-year-old Kmart on Parley's Way and replace it with a 120,000-square-foot super store. Last week, the Salt Lake City Planning Commission unanimously rejected Wal-Mart's zoning change request. The opposition is couched in sanitized planning terms - green building standards, ingress and egress.

But to me, the political and social implications of surrendering to the Behemoth from Bentonville are just as important.

With globalization, Wal-Mart isn't the only store made in China anymore. There are few true Mom-and-Pop grocery stores left to be put out of business. And while the benefits of working at Costco rather than Wal-Mart-owned Sam's Club are clear, I'm not sure Shopko or Smith's Marketplace clerks are any better off.

Still, there always seems to be another story about employee abuse or market manipulation from the corporate giant. The company's impact on work force management standards, health care policy and the homogenization of the American marketplace can't be discounted. Wal-Mart is cheap. But is strolling through the store's overstocked aisles of steals worth the conscience-stricken hangover?

This new store has been in the works for nearly four years. And Wal-Mart doesn't build a store to lose money. No doubt the company has tracked where its Salt Lake County shoppers live. I'm not the only one in my neighborhood who has swiped a debit card at the 1300 South store.

"They recognize that there are real tax benefits to Salt Lake City, as well as great values available at Wal-Mart," says store spokeswoman Karianne Fallow.

Renee Craigo, an East Millcreek mother of four, doesn't understand what all the fuss is about. Right now, she drives to Midvale or Park City to shop at Wal-Mart. She wants a "gorgeous" new Wal-Mart on the east bench yesterday.

"I love to be able to buy everything in one place," Craigo says. "I'm still feeding kids at home. I need the biggest bang for my buck."

The company claims an ever-growing number of Salt Lake City supporters - the latest count is 2,000 - who want a new store at the intersection of Parley's and Foothill Drive.

Salt Lake City's progressive politics can't stop this. It's not a matter of if a store opens on Foothill, but when. Wal-Mart is inevitable.

And I'm the proof.


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