Wednesday, June 2, 2010

WalMart column

Wal-Mart: The name is synonymous with retail shopping---the picture of successful capitalism run amok.

Over the last 20 years Wal-Mart has spread its stores faster than just about any major retail chain in any category, with the possible exception of Subway, which recently took over the lead spot from McDonald’s for most locations in the United States.

One place that Wal-Mart has not invaded, as you all know, is Butts County.

And what of that? Depending on who you are talking to, Wal-Mart either tried to come in and was voted down, or they never wanted to come here even though people wanted them.

Stewart Voegtlin assures me the story of Wal-Mart being voted out by the County Commission is one of the great Butts County myths, and that according to Wal-Mart spokesmen, there simply aren’t enough people in Butts County to support a large store like theirs.

I know how the myth machine works and sometimes, if enough people believe a myth, it tends to become accepted as fact.

As a small business owner, and also as a Butts County resident, I have mixed feelings on the subject. As a retail store owner, I know a Wal-Mart in the county would likely put a big dent in my sales. As a consumer who often needs certain products, I have to go out of the county since Butts simply doesn’t have the stores here where I can buy them. I don’t like having to drive all the way to Griffin or McDonough to buy anything but have to out of necessity sometimes.

Why have a Wal-Mart here?

The pros: They have a large selection of products which is convenient, to be sure. They hire a lot of people who might not be able to get a job anywhere else, due to things like past criminal history, physical appearance and other reasons. They would pay a large amount of taxes, which the county could use to offset all the non-profitable church properties that pay no taxes at all.

The cons: Wal-Mart is infamous for the damage they do to small mom and pop businesses. They also have a reputation for questionable employment practices, long lines at the registers with an insufficient number of cashiers on hand, and, if you compare prices on certain items, ridiculously high prices at times. (Compare the prices of meat at Wal-Mart to those at Webbs, Ingles, and “the Pig” and you’ll find that you’ll get a better bargain here.) Wal-Mart makes their money not by offering any real bargains but by sheer volume; hence the large number of stores all over the US.

When the annual lists appear of richest Americans, Bill Gates is usually on top.

But if you carefully scan the rest, you will find three members of the Walton family, founders of Wal-Mart. They are individually listed each with roughly $19 billion in wealth, which, when combined is more than Mr. Gates’ total. Bill Gates is well known for his charitable works and for spending his money for the greater good. Wal-Mart is known for invading rural areas, screwing up the local economy and then when the chips are down, leaving behind a ghost town. Is that what we want for Butts County?

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