Cultural Revolutions

A Wal-Mart in Every Town

Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton used to claim that he would never build a store in a town that didn’t want one.  Whether true or not, it was at least the right thing to say.  Since Walton’s death in 1992, however, Wal-Mart has largely dropped the pretense, forcing its way into Vermont (the last state to succumb to the world’s largest retailer) and building up an army of lawyers who convince zoning boards to grant waivers to allow 40-acre parking lots and threaten city councils that suspect that Wal-Mart’s “Always Low Prices” might, in the end, mean fewer choices for consumers and fewer jobs for workers as local merchants are forced out of business.

Recently, however, facing stiffer opposition from local authorities, Wal-Mart has adopted a new strategy that seems more consistent with Sam Walton’s claim and which—purely coincidentally, of course—might allow the chain to do an end run around local government: Take the issue directly to the people.  The test case came in Inglewood, California, where Wal-Mart gathered 10,000 signatures to put a referendum on the ballot after the city council successfully held the Arkansas empire at bay last year.  The company had the support of Inglewood’s mayor, Roosevelt Doorn, who said that the five million dollars in new tax revenues that Wal-Mart’s planned Supercenter would generate made the referendum a “no-brainer.”

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