If you’re a small business owner or community member in the Gorge, you’ve likely heard someone ask, “Do we want the Gorge to become Anyplace, USA?” The desire of any community to preserve their unique culture—made up of independent retailers, artists, natural beauty and more—is getting harder and harder, given the economic pressures coming from Wall Street.
The Dalles City Council’s approval of the construction of a 150,000 square-foot Walmart Super Center, along with Hood River City Council’s decisions to allow Walmart to add 30,000 square feet to its existing store for grocery sales, is an important reminder about the ways in which big-box retailers are forever changing economic landscape — especially in rural communities.
While there is value in keeping the cost of goods affordable to as many people as possible, Walmart’s low prices come at a serious price to small business owners, employees, and governments.
Walmart’s low prices come at a price to small retailers: Walmart helped generate a 3.1 percent decline in overall consumer prices from 1985 to 2004, according to consulting firm Global Insight Inc. (known as “The Walmart Effect”). Walmart’s expansion from the late 1980s to late 1990s accounted for 50-70% of the decline in small retailers (those with fewer than 20 employees).
They come at a price to farmers: In 1990, the farmer received 24 cents of the grocery store dollar. Today, it’s 19 cents. In 1990, out of every dollar spent on beef, 60 cents went to the producer. Today it’s 42 cents.
They come at a price to taxpayers: Wal-Mart has benefited greatly from more than $1 billion in economic development subsidies from state and local governments to build and expand stores and distribution centers.
In the news
Hood River’s City Council recently overturned the Hood River Planning Commission’s decision to deny Walmart’s 30,000 square-foot expansion. If this upsets you, send comments to City Hall at firstname.lastname@example.org, and urge City Council to rethink their decision.
What are the issues?
- Commercial sales in Light Industrial zones is currently outlawed in Hood River. Walmart is in a Light Industrial Zone, but it claims it is except from this law because it has a “vested” right to expand (see below).
- Zoning in the area where Walmart is located specifically prohibits the sale of groceries. Walmart wants to use its expansion to sell groceries.
So why would Walmart be exempt from existing land-use laws? It’s claiming it has a “vested right” to expand its store based on the approval of its original 72,000-square-foot store in 1991. Walmart claims that it was given permission to build a 120,000 square-foot store in 1991 and it’s finally finishing Phase II of that approved development.
The Hood River Planning Commission disagreed, saying in 1991, Walmart received permission to build a 72,000 square-foot store only.
The Hood River City Council overturned the Planning Commission’s decision. The Hood River Citizens for a Local Economy (HRCLE), a citizen group of citizens concerned about the impacts of corporations on the health of our community, is planning to appeal the decision to the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals. Interested in joining HRCLE and/or receiving updates about the Walmart expansion? Please fill out this online form.
Why is HRCLE opposing the Walmart expansion? They are concerned about the following:
- The City is currently debating how they will pay for a traffic light at Cascade and Rand, which would cost almost $1 million, according to reports. The original approval called for Walmart to assist with the costs of this traffic light.
- The expansion relies heavily on the existing detention pond and system, which has failed in the past. There is insufficient proof in this application that the stormwater facility will not break and go unaddressed as it has in the past.
- Gardening products will be stockpiled on the lot – including fertilizers and steer manure. It is not uncommon for these bags to break open, sending toxic chemicals into the stormwater system. If the system fails as it has in the past, that water will end up in neighboring yards and eventually the Columbia River, which supports threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead runs.
Impacts to local businesses
- If approved, the expansion could harm the health of local businesses that recirculate money within the Hood River economy rather than shipping profits out of town.
- Locally owned businesses are two-to-three times more likely to donate to local non-profits, purchase local goods and services (such as marketing, accounting, etc.), and participate in local politics, charities and other organizations.
Five Reasons Why Hood River Doesn’t Need a (BIGGER) Walmart, by Steve Ramsey co-Founder of RelyLocal
Ending WalMart’s Rural Stranglehold, by A Voice for Working America
Supercenters and the Transformation of the Bay Area Grocery Industry: Issues, Trends, and Impacts, by the Bay Area Economic Forum
Key Studies on Walmart, The New Rules Project, www.newrules.org
Big-Box Tool Kit, http://bigboxtoolkit.com
Wal-Mart Subsidy Watch, www.walmartsubsidywatch.org/search.html
Small Mart Revolution, by Michael Shuman
The Weight of Walmart by Frugal Dad