Vol. 9, No. 2
Jan. 11-17, 2001
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In Chesapeake Country, Wal-Mart Wants to Hear from You

In the aftermath of the messy presidential election, we heard about 6,000 times how a good citizen listens to the judge and accepts his fate.

Watching Wal-Mart's tactics on Kent Island, it seems some of our corporate citizens don't believe that rule applies to them.

Wal-Mart, known for paying little attention to people, also is thumbing its nose at Circuit Court judge John Sause. His decision upheld county officials' refusal to grant sewer and water allocations for a Wal-Mart "big box" the company wants to plop down near the Bay Bridge.

The company plans to appeal the ruling and is fighting back. Wal-Mart, the company that once shied away from newspaper ads, is running ads to promote an 800 phone line seeking support for the 154,000-square-foot store that so many people oppose.

The recorded message ignores the environmental questions about locating a shopping center on a narrow, sensitive strip of land. Instead, it trumpets short-term consumer benefits and potential tax revenues that would help Queen Anne's County schools and public services.

"Everyday low prices and a great selection of merchandise make Wal-Mart a community favorite across America," callers are told.

Opponents might rewrite that message this way: "Our everyday refusal to listen to citizens makes Wal-Mart a community hazard across America."

From coast to coast, from California to Maine, Wal-Mart is stubbornly battling communities that are rising up to fight the impact of big-box stores on their economies and their environments. Communities that have seen how Wal-Mart sucks the life out of downtowns and spoils the environments of outlying areas with their cookie-cutter, windowless boxes at the back of treeless parking lots.

Recounting Wal-Mart's environmental violations last year, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal observed when he sued the company, "To be a serious statewide polluter at 11 stores gives Wal-Mart a very dubious distinction as an environmental lawbreaker."

Unfortunately, Wal-Mart appears to have its sights set on Chesapeake Country. Wal-Mart also aims to build in the Parole shopping plaza, an area so derelict that the common wisdom holds that anything is better in Parole Plaza than nothing.

Near Chesapeake, Va., over 4,000 people have signed petitions asking Wal-Mart to scrap plans for Wal-Mart/Sam's Club big boxes on 53 acres of land. But Wal-Mart is persisting with a troop of lawyers and a public relations campaign that includes, you guessed it, a toll-free phone line.

In California, where several Wal-Mart fights are under way, it took a ballot initiative in the November election to halt construction of one of their big boxes in San Bernardino County. But another anti-Wal-Mart initiative, in the town of Palmdale, was defeated.

We can image Wal-mart's war room back home in Arkansas, with a giant map of America and colored pins where it wants to expand. And it is a war, as Phyllis Myers, a consultant for Brookings Institution in Washington, suggested in a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times.

"There's a struggle going on over who's going to be in charge," she said.

Other discount companies - Target, among them - are responsible corporate citizens that listen to local residents. Not Wal-Mart, which insists that its corporation, not your community, is in charge.

Now that the case has gone against it, Wal-Mart says it's ready to listen. We're impressed. The recorded message at the toll-free number for Kent County invites callers to leave their own messages. Dial 1/800/288-2706 if you have one.

Copyright 2000
Bay Weekly