Admit it. You shop at Wal-Mart, don’t you? Even though deep in your heart you know it’s wrong, that you’re contributing to the downfall of your local shopkeeper, the blight of suburban sprawl, and – when you get right down to it – the end of Western civilization as we know it, you just can’t resist the convenience and low prices. Fear not – your soul is not yet lost. All you need is a viewing of “Store Wars: When Wal-Mart Comes to Town” to set you straight.
The case against Wal-Mart goes something like this: 1) They use predatory tactics to drive local entrepreneurs out of business. For example, they’ve been known to open up a series of stores within a few miles of each other and then, once the competition has been eliminated, close the less profitable branches and leave the others to thrive. 2) They claim to bring hundreds of new jobs to the community, 70 percent of which are full-time positions. However, “full-time” is defined as 28 hours or more. 3) They sap rural areas of their individuality, leaving them looking just like everywhere else. 4) They sell only “clean” versions of rap and rock albums, with specially re-recorded vocals that eliminate profanity or “objectionable” material.
“Store Wars” hits all the highlights, focusing on the small town of Ashland, Virginia, and the battle the local citizenry wage to prevent the corporate Goliath from invading their community. Calling themselves the “Pink Flamingos” and enlisting the aid of activist Al Norman, founder of Sprawl Busters, the townspeople circulate petitions, speak out at planning commission meetings, and wave their protest signs in the face of Wal-Mart’s corporate lawyers. Intent on preserving their way of life, they pressure the mayor and city council to turn down the superstore’s zoning proposal.
Of course, there’s another side to the story, and although the pro-growth forces are not as visible in their efforts, we can sense their presence behind the hesitancy of the mayor to commit to an anti-Wal-Mart stance. Clearly, though, “Store Wars” is not meant to be an objective piece of journalism. That much is evident from the tension that accompanies the final city council vote on the issue. I won’t give away the result here, but here’s another chilling fact to file away: a new Wal-Mart opens every two business days – and their stated goal is to double that rate. Just something to think about next time you’re shopping for a new toaster.