Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Wal-mart, Go Home

Let me start by saying that I truly despise Wal-Mart. People turn ugly when they get into the parking lot. I don't like the way Wal-Mart does business. I don't think that the homogenization of America is worth saving 4 cents on a bar of soap. I miss Mom-and-Pop stores. I think Wal-Mart is bad.

I live in a neighborhood that is not in downtown, but is not the suburbs. It is an old, classic, beautiful neighborhood, nearly a square mile in area. We have shops, a couple restaurants, a few duplex homes, and a couple small apartments, as well as one high-rise apartment (that dates from the 1920s and still has a doorman to operate the elevator). Wal-Mart wants to build a store about 1 mile from my home. I cannot begin to tell you how against this I am.

I believe that anybody in marketing can make anything sound good. I think that a good lobbyist can make you want to buy cancer. Consequently, I don't believe any of them. Wal-Mart has sent lobbyists (they call them "developers") to our fair city to convince our city council members that building this store 3 miles from our city center is not only good for the city, but it will not be a problem for the neighborhoods involved. If the traffic is not going to affect the neighborhoods, why do they wish to build at this site? Isn't the point to get cars into the parking lot and people into the store? Do they think that the cars will teleport themselves into the parking lot? We have 4 schools in the area--do we believe the lobbyists when they say that traffic is not going to be a problem?

Three blocks from my home, we have a Dillons supermarket, affectionately referred to as "Dinky Dillons." It isn't large, but I have been able to get my weekly shopping done there more than once. There is an adorable woman who works there named Terry. Ever time I go in to do my shopping, she welcomes me like I am her long-lost child. And not just me--she knows her customers, as do most of the clerks and stockmen in the store. It is small, but a delightful place to run in and pick things up. I can send my kids there to get potatoes should I run out while cooking dinner. Wal-Mart will close that store. It simply will not be able to compete. Given the new scheduling system that Wal-Mart is implementing, I doubt that the workers at Wal-Mart, should the City Council approve it today, will ever see customers enough to know them.

Years ago, I was in a Wal-Mart here in Wichita. At the time, it was a fairly new store. It was sleeting outside, and I had 2 children in my cart, an infant and a 2-year-old. I had some other things, and a 40-pound bag of dog food. There was no help in getting my things onto the conveyor belt for checkout, and the cashier told me to leave the dog food there, and she would find the bar code and scan it. She ripped the bag, and dog food poured onto the floor. It took almost 10 minutes for someone to come with a broom and dustpan, and this person was unable to sweep the food up. I took the broom and swept the floor so that no one would slip and fall on the dog food. It took another 15 minutes for the guy who brought the broom to get a replacement bag of dog food. After all this, no one helped me get the dog food to my car. You know, even though I was angry at my treatment, I understood that the cashier didn't mean to rip the bag, the guy with the broom just simply didn't know how to sweep, and they were crowded and busy with people trying to get stocked with a winter storm coming in, and taking things to the car is your own problem, regardless of the circumstances. This realization didn't excuse anything that happened in the store, but I got it. I wrote a complaint letter to the management of the store, and forwarded a copy to Bentonville, Arkansas, anyway. I thought that they might want their store to be a more pleasant place for people to visit. I received no response from either the store nor the corporate headquarters. It struck me then that Wal-Mart doesn't care about its customers--it only cares about the bottom line. Like any corporation that knows how to get what it wants, I believe it will sell any bill of goods necessary to the City Council to get what it wants, as long as it can improve its bottom line.

I know that Sam Walton was a patriotic American who loved this country. I wonder if he would love the homogeneous, materialistic country we are allowing Wal-Mart to make us into. I hope our City Council is intelligent enough to see through the sales pitch.

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