Wal-Mart or Not?

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The City Planning Board met yesterday and heard from supporters and foes of Wal-Mart’s plan to build a second store here in Great Falls. When I heard on the news this morning that the board voted AGAINST recommending the new store, I was stunned. Actually, the board had a tie vote of 4-4, but a majority is needed for a “yes” vote. But a NO vote? What on earth is going on here? And what the heck were the opponents of Wal-Mart trying to do – sabotage our community? We want jobs – we want development – we want choices – all of which Wal-Mart is prepared to bring to Great Falls. And the opponents fight this development because…why? For example, consider what a union leader said:

Sara Thody, the executive officer for the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, said she does not oppose retail development on the East Side. She is, however, opposed to a second Wal-Mart store. “We do not need that in Great Falls,” she said.

Can anybody explain that logic? She wants retail development – Wal-Mart is giving retail development – and then she changes her mind and says we don’t need “that” in Great Falls. Huh?

And of course some opponents trotted out the usual crap by claiming that Wal-Mart doesn’t offer enough “high-paying” jobs, and a new Wal-Mart will hurt other businesses in Great Falls. Well, maybe it doesn’t offer jobs that pay enough according to critics, but to real people who want real money, a job at Wal-Mart might be a very good thing. Heck, if critics want to use the “low wages” argument, then why don’t they campaign against the fast-food restaurants in town? We have four McDonald’s, and I doubt that any of them offer “high-paying” jobs; they simply offer jobs to people who want them, and no one is forced to work there OR to eat there. It’s called free-enterprise, and it works. And arguing that Wal-Mart will destroy other businesses is just nuts: when the existing store was built over on the NW side of town, was there some sort of economic devastation that wiped out all local business in the immediate vicinity?
Now, do I shop at Wal-Mart? Not very often; the lure of low prices isn’t enough to get me to fight the crowded parking lot, the usually long lines, and the sheer size of the place when all I need is some milk, meat, and cat food. But those features aren’t enough to label the company “evil,” or make me want to shut it down, or prevent it from growing. So while I am hardly a huge supporter of Wal-Mart, I am a huge supporter of free-enterprise, our community, and giving consumers as much choice as possible. And that’s what it’s all about: choice. Let Wal-Mart come to Great Falls, and if you don’t like Wal-Mart, then you don’t have to shop there. But please don’t deny Great Falls the opportunity to grow and demonstrate to other businesses that we welcome them, too.

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17 Comments

  1. I’m not the sharpest rocket surgeon in the drawer, but I’d be willing to bet that Sara Thody opposes Wal-Mart because Wal-Mart doesn’t put money in Sara Thody’s pocket. I haven’t come across too many union bigwigs who really care about anything beyond the money going into their pockets.

    I don’t personally care whether there’s a second Wal-Mart or not –but I do grow tired of how people complain that Great Falls doesn’t have all the cool stuff other towns do –and then turn around and oppose the kinds of businesses that anchor developments that bring that cool stuff in.

  2. I agree that this is a huge embarrassment for the city of Great Falls. All this talk in the newspaper about growth, about how the city is going to turn itself around, about how we need a new identity here; all has been done in vain over the past couple of months. This solidifies my view of Great Falls as being run by a group that don’t like “outsiders”, don’t like any type of growth, and want to preserve some of the “natural beauty” of the town (for example the place where Walgreens SHOULD be in the process of being built now). Great Falls needs a facelift and a boost in its economy. The only way to do that is to attract business. If the WalMart was built, I think we’d eventually see growth akin to the Home Depot area. Maybe a new theater would suit that area also (one that is kept up, hires employees that care about their jobs, and provides service instead of just a product). Also, a couple of strip malls would suffice. Great Falls should anchor its identity with phrases such as “growing city”, “medical oasis”, “city by the river”. Not “anti growth” “eyesore” “decaying”.

    We must be the laughing stock of Montana. Even Helena, with a smaller economic base boasts a
    brand new movie theater and shopping district (Great Northern Town Center). Helena has new
    restaurants, a Macy’s, a wine bar, and driving in Helena isn’t half bad either. Why do you think
    COSTCO turned Great Falls down and would rather build in Helena? It seems to me that Helena is capitalizing on our shortcomings (and on our newly bolstered reputation). I’m not even
    going to try and compare Great Falls to Missoula or Bozeman.

    Now don’t get me totally wrong. Great Falls has the potential of becoming Montana’s new gem.
    We have the population and economic viability to do this. However, the opposing board members are choking this city now, and have been doing this for decades. Let’s petition to get rid of these people by having a recall. Let’s send these types of people to small towns with a population of under 1000. People move to smaller towns to avoid growth like this and to enjoy the great outdoors. Perhaps the opposing members of the city planning board will be better suited and welcomed in such areas (and perhaps better equipped professionally).

    I tip my hat off to businesses such as the Breaks, Motifs, Tony Roma’s, Dante’s, Montana Sub
    Shop, Smith’s, Benefis, McKenzie River Pizza, Big Mouth BBQ, (I’m sure you can name some too). These establishments, in my opinion, bring three words to my mind: QUALITY, SERVICE, PRIDE. We need more of this in Great Falls and less of substandard offerings (and the mentality that we have to settle for what is provided for us). We can’t just sit back and watch
    another 20 years of economic depression take over.

  3. It has been going on here for a long time, but at least now we know for sure that we are doing all we can to STOP any growth in Great Falls.

  4. I only worry about where they build and it’s impact on the traffic flow. Why has the board voted down both walmart & walgreens? This is going to get us blacklisted by box stores quickly.

  5. Here is a comment that was posted at my site. I know Bill, and I think the author overstates his case, but I thought that the individual’s comments about private property speak volumes about our City’s attitudes toward new businesses:

    “I know Bronson. He’s a phony, self-styled “conservative” who supports limits on government power except when it is to be exercised by him. Like all liberals (and most RINO’s) he just figures he’s smarter than the rest of us.

    How could a true conservative reconcile a belief in private property rights with the notion that, when deciding land use issues, one should consider the “economic effect” of one’s use? Let’s see, I want to build a store on my property, but it might adversely affect other stores, so Bronson and his ilk will say I can’t?

    Hello? Free market, anyone?”

  6. I was at the meeting. I listened to all the pros and anti’s who commented. The pro people wanted a new shopping area on the east side of town for convenience. The anti’s for the most part just hate Wal-Mart and would have been for the project if it had any name on the application other than Wal-Mart. Some actually broke into tears as they begged the board to stop Wal-Mart and save our community. They talked about low wages, bad working conditions and negative effects on small business. Of all the people who spoke against the new store (approx 30 spoke) only one was a former Wal-Mart employee (a pharmacist, who probably only made $90K at WM and felt he was worth $100K) and there were NO small businesses people commenting on how their business would be negatively affected. It is very telling that there was no one speaking from the groups that all the anti’s were trying to protect.

    I was also disappointed by Bronson’s performance. I hope he was twisting and distorting legal theories on purpose to get to his final conclusions, otherwise he is one piss-poor lawyer.

  7. Wal-Mart is facing problems with their new developments all over the country especially on the
    east and west coasts. In California, virtually every development is met with massive
    opposition.

    They are suffering a public relations crisis at the moment, and are viewed very negatively by
    many important interest groups. They are perceived by many as being bullies. Wal-Mart is well
    aware of these problems and are working very hard and at the very highest levels to correct
    their image problems, but it is likely to take them a few years to sort it out.

    In the meantime, Costco and Target are starting to infringe on their franchise.

    Just read an article, for example, that mentioned that the average Costco store has vastly
    higher sales and is far more profitable than the typical Sams Club (owned by Wal-Mart) store.

    In Canada (I used to live is Great Falls), we hear that Sams Club has abandoned their expansion
    plans because they simply cannot compete with Costco. Apparently the performance of the few
    stores that they opened in Ontario has been very disappointing.

    One more interesting fact that I read in an article recently. The median household income of
    shoppers’ in the following stores is as follows:

    Wal-Mart – $36,000
    Target – $55,000
    Costco – $74,000

  8. Calman,

    Just want to comment on your post. I think that Sam’s is struggling because Costco provides a
    superior product. The products, produce, meat, wine, and most benefits far exceed that of
    Sam’s Club in terms of quality. I guarantee that if you buy comprable steaks at both businesses,
    the Costco steak will win. In my opinion, people are more educated these days and know how
    to pick the more premium product. Look at the brand new release of Consumer Reports. I don’t
    think it is an accident that all of the top 10 automobiles of 2005/6 were Japanese made (quality).
    I want to see the like in Great Falls. Oust the lackluster businesses (or make them rethink
    their business strategies) by bringing in new competition. Another example is County Market.
    The stores are severely outdated, dirty, and their parking lots are in bad repair. No pride of
    ownership there. How do they think they can stay in business? Maybe because they are one of
    only two grocery stores on 10th? Bring in Wal-Mart, and they’ll go bankrupt in less than a year.
    It’s time for a reality check.

  9. I read with interest the many comments in this section. As a native Great Falls 30-something who lives in Western Washington now, I have seen what the effects of sprawl and box stores brings. Great Falls has had box stores for as long as I can remember and adding another Wal-Mart makes little sense for the economy and the community. Unfortunately, many decisions are made for economic reasons and forget that “community” is often affected by the desire for more. There are better ways to improve the economy than bringing in (another) Wal-Mart.
    The mention of Costco’s reign is not just about having superior products to Sam’s Club. The company’s ethics are far-superior to Wal-Mart’s and have made it their business practice to offer benefits/pay to their employees that is competitive. The result is better customer service, more freedom by the employees to offer suggestions about products sold at the stores (without fear of repercussion if they don’t sell), more security in their job, better quality of life and so much more. They are the shining example of a business that not only makes money, but treats its employees with dignity and resppect.
    I wanted to comment on wolfpack’s opinion that “It is very telling that there was no one speaking from the groups that all the anti’s were trying to protect”. The people in power hold a responsibility to protect the less-fortunate in our society. And those people who are affected by Wal-Mart’s practices are usually the less fortunate. They are single mothers working 2+ jobs to feed their kids and they don’t have the time (or resources for child care) to spend 4 hours at a meeting to discuss pros and cons of bringing business into GF.
    Furthermore, JohnT’s comments on GF council lacking vision: You contradict yourself when you say that businesses such as Motif’s, etc are examples of quality, service, etc – They are independent, small businesses that are what make city’s have an identity. Bringing in box stores and movie theatres do not create identity. There has to be balance of both and right now the money spent at box stores and casinos far outweigh that spent at interesting and unique establishments.
    For the council to decide that another Wal-Mart is not needed in Great Falls is a bold move, but I whole-heartedly support that decision. Great job! There is more to creating a desirable, great town than bringing in big business. How about improving the programming that is offered within the park and rec department?

  10. It’s hard to take any one serious who thinks Great Falls needs to be worried about urban sprawl. There has been no visible resistance from the business community to the new store. Wal-Mart is the shopping place of the working poor because of low prices. If a government program was selling goods to the poor at the same below market prices as Wal-Mart, we would be hearing from the same anti Wal-Mart people screaming for more funding and expansion of the program. The low wages of WM are not low for GF, we are not Seattle. That’s probably why Anne, like many others, moved away.

    The argument against a second store is not supported by the GF business community or the working poor. Only self interested labor groups are sounding the alarms. I still haven’t had it explained to me how a second WM prevents potential employees from taking a higher paying job elsewhere.

  11. Anne: One question. How many of those single mothers working 2+ jobs shop at Motif’s? You’re making yourself sound like an elitist.

    I was in Bozeman this weekend. The McDonald’s there is seeking labor with a big sign that says $10.00 per hour. What industry is booming in Bozeman to force those wages up? Retail.

  12. “And those people who are affected by Wal-Mart’s practices are
    usually the less fortunate. They are single mothers working 2+ jobs
    to feed their kids” Um, are these not the same people that benefit from shopping at shopping at WalMart?
    I also happen to know personally several people in this town who
    work at WM and I have never heard them complain about getting a
    paycheck.

  13. A couple of points regarding what others have mentioned:
    -The net result of the opening of a Wal-Mart Supercenter in an area is, on average, an overall net reduction of retail jobs of 5%. For example, if a new Wal-Mart creates 200 new jobs, 210 will be lost at other retail enterprises through closures and job reductions. Several studies have been conducted on this phenomenon. The main reason for this is that Wal-Mart sells far more per employee than virtually all of its competitors. It simply requires fewer employees to conduct a given amount of business.
    -The impact of a second Wal-Mart Supercenter in a community in attracting out of town visitors is very small in comparison to the first. The most important decision out of town visitors make is in actually undertaking the trip in the first place. The existence of a second Supercenter will have very little impact on their decision to come to Great Falls – travelling a few more miles to one or the other Supercenter simply makes little difference. In this instance, whatever additional trips are made are sure to be more than offset by the opening of a Supercenter in Havre later this year. Havre will become the end destination of many shopping trips rather than Great Falls. Clearly, this will not eliminate all shopping trips from northern Montana to Great Falls, but it will definitely have a serious impact on the frequency of those trips. It will also have an impact on the number of overnight stays in Great Falls – especially on weekends.

  14. I read a lot of these comments and I just want to scream one word;

    Bull.

    Why does Wal-Mart want to build ANOTHER store here? Simple; the traffic and revenue at the existing store exceed its capacity.

    With an existing Wal-Mart supercenter here, what business stands to lose the most revenue when the new Wal-Mart opens? Only one — the existing Wal-Mart on the West side.

    In reality, this is not a “new” store, it is only a cross-town expansion of the existing facility.

    So what is the downside of a new Wal-Mart opening for our town? I really don’t see one. What I do see is lots of new (albeit low-paying) retail jobs, no real impact on existing businesses and the possibility for extensive development on the East side of town.

  15. BIllings has 2 Wal Marts…one is a super store and the other is small. Both do very good business. The larger one has the same traffic headaches we have here. I see no reason to stop the second Wal Mart. I just wish it were proposed further down 57th.

  16. Pingback: Greater Falls, Montana! » Blog Archive » Walgreen’s On The Way

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