Over the past 20 years, the nature of the American retailing market has changed dramatically, going from Mom and Pop’s boutiques to mega retail stores like Wal-Mart. Especially in the last decade, Sam Walton’s discount stores have proliferated in almost every city across the United States and Canada. But the opinions about the effects of Wal-Mart in small towns divide the rural population in two groups. Through economic, cultural and social arguments, the anti-Wal-Mart activists and the advocates defend their point of view about the expansion of the store in small communities.
The anti-Wal-Mart activists believe that the creation of giant discount stores in the rural regions of the United States will lead to their economic and cultural destruction. With economic impact studies, they show that Wal-Mart’s incredible gains are in fact taken from other local merchants, whom finally run out of business. According to Sarah Anderson, an economic analyst with an anti Wal-Mart stance, the establishment of a new store near a small town destroys more jobs in independent businesses than it actually creates in hiring local workers (1994). Moreover, a Wal-Mart funded community impact study in Greenfield, Massachusetts demonstrated that the construction of a new mega store would create 274 jobs. But in long terms, the community projects to lost about the same amount in the locally owned competing businesses (Sarah Anderson, 1994). The anti Wal-Mart activists are also concerned by the return of the profits in its adoptive community. The economic spin-off of the money spent in local business is largely superior than with the discount store. But almost all the profits made in a Wal-Mart are returned to the Arkansas headquarters or are used for extensive national advertising campaigns. The economy of a small town is not the only aspect that a Wal-Mart affects, the rural way of life is also endangered. The tranquil and friendly way of life in small communities is threatened by the urban one-stop shopping culture of the giant. The population in regions does not want a store where the atmosphere is cold and artificial. In essence, the anti-Wal-Mart activists want to stop the store from establishing itself in rural communities because they believe that it would destroy their economic and cultural identity.
On the opposite side, the population in favour of Wal-Mart thinks that the creation of new stores in rural regions stimulates the economy and that the local businesses are responsible for the problems faced on Main Street because they are not adapted to the modern retailing market. First of all, the opening of a mega discount store in a region attracts people from other small towns. This affluence of customers is beneficial to the local businesses that sell complementary products near the Wal-Mart. The advocates of the store also affirm that the company creates jobs. But if local merchants want to benefit from Wal-Mart, they have to evolve with the market and change their way of doing things. As said by Jo-Ann Johnston, adaptation is the key element: ”People are beginning to realize that small town merchants need to adapt to changes in their communities, the economy, and their industries instead of chastising an outside company” (1995, p.222). The businesses of rural downtowns are obsolete and do not reflect the real needs of customers. Therefore, to keep their stores viable and worth keeping, they have to create stronghold and evolve, even faced with huge competition (Jo-Ann Johnston, 1995). If they want to compete, the rural merchants have to improve their products, marketing and service. The advocates of Wal-Mart believe that coexistence between the giant retail store and local businesses is for the best, but rural downtowns have to change with their time.
The Wal-Mart conflict is deeper and more important than a simple competition among retail stores. The choices made by the population will determine the future of the economy, culture and way of life of the American rural communities. In fact, the anti-Wal-Mart activists and the advocates represent continuity and change in small towns. The mega discount store is only the firing element of an already existing questioning.
Anderson, Sarah. (1994). Wal-Mart’s War on Main Street.
Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum (pp.216-222)
Johnston, Jo-Ann. (1995). Who’s Really the Villain?
Writing and Reading