Here, Wal-Mart supporters have reason to rejoice. Three Supercenters dot the Alabama 21 corridor, giving this county’s shoppers ample opportunities to visit the world’s largest retailer.
But that’s not the only apt description of the late Sam Walton’s empire.
Its immeasurable impact on nearly all areas of American retail — groceries, clothes, auto parts, hardware, home decor, electronics and CDs — has profoundly altered the landscape. Locally owned retailers with small inventories, staffs and advertising budgets have long-since learned that you don’t compete toe-to-toe with Wal-Mart. You have to offer something the retail giant can’t — personalized service, for instance.
Or, in other words, you don’t out-Wal-Mart Wal-Mart.
That Wal-Mart deserves widespread criticism for the low wages it pays the majority of its massive workforce shouldn’t be overlooked, either.
That mindset has been on display in Washington this summer as lawmakers in the nation’s capital passed a living-wage ordinance that requires that city’s retailers with at least $1 billion in annual sales and stores of more than 75,000 square feet to pay workers $12.50 an hour. Wal-Mart is not mentioned by name in the bill’s language.
But the implication is clear. The city’s minimum wage is $8.25 an hour — a dollar more than the federal minimum wage — yet it now requires megastores such as Wal-Mart to pay their workers more than 50 percent more than the city’s legal wage. Washington’s lawmakers are playing hardball with the retailer by saying, in effect, “You can come, but only if you follow these rules.”
Wal-Mart planned to open six Washington-area stores. Construction is under way on three stores. In response to the city’s new law, the retailer has cancelled plans for the others.
Embedded in this scenario are several issues, not the least of which is Wal-Mart’s successful thwarting of unionization and the negative effect low-wage jobs with little, if any, employer-provided health care have on a community.
Though beset with the worst of America’s poverty and inner-city crime, the District doesn’t have to have Wal-Mart. (The same goes for New York City, another Wal-Mart dissenter.) Other options persist. It can play hardball, and has.
Smaller communities desperate for jobs, retail and tax revenue aren’t as fortunate, which creates the perfect storm for Wal-Mart brass looking for areas to build new Supercenters. Cities such as Calhoun County’s don’t overflow with options for jobs and shoppers. Opportunities can be scarce. Looking the other way when a billion-dollar company issues minimum-wage checks to its employees becomes second nature.
All jobs aren’t created equal. Wal-Mart proves that. Yet, it’s impressive to see politicians willing to stand up for the long-term needs of those they represent.