Walmart

Something There Is That Doesn't Like a Wal-Mart

|

The National Trust for Historic Preservation is at it again, declaring the entire state of Vermont "endangered" by Wal-Mart. The Green Mountain state has four of the discount superstores now, with seven (count 'em) planned for the coming year.

From a NY Times account via the Houston Chronicle:

The National Trust for Historic Preservation put Vermont on its list of endangered places back in 1993, [Trust president] Richard Moe said, even when there were no Wal-Marts there. But there were already several other so-called "big box stores" that were threatening its character.

"Back then, Vermont was the only state without a Wal-Mart," a news release for the Trust said. "Today, it has four—and it now faces an invasion of behemoth stores that could destroy much of what makes Vermont Vermont."

Moe said that the Trust was listing Vermont and its threat from Wal-Mart "to stimulate a debate in Vermont and throughout the country."

Actually, it'd be more accurate to say the Trust is trying to keep alive a debate it lost a long time ago. Read the whole Chronicle piece and then check out this story I wrote, which quotes Moe, on the same topic in 1995. The only thing that has changed for him is the year.

NEXT: Disconnect 'dem Cambone

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Something’s lost but something’s gained
    In consuming every day………..

  2. Nick, your piece betrays a bias even more extreme than the anti-Wal-Mart people. One could, in fact, note that big boxes are benefitting from a preferential regulatory and economic regime which is not exactly natural (unnaturally cheap driving costs; zoning codes which encourage sprawl while at the same time discouraging infill; etc.)

    Looks to me like you’re one of the most common breed of Libertarian – libertarianus exceptwhensuburbansprawlcomesupus

  3. Let New England destroy itself paying too much at mom and pops. I’m sucking up the chinese bargains to the point of being able to afford more kids. I was thrilled that a new Wal-Mart was opening nearer to hear, until I learned I was moving, so much for the outdated satelite image, Nick. However, my new property is going to be prime Big-box land, and the city council will have to kill me get it from me.

  4. Sorry M1EK, but it’s you who betrays the bias, to the point of completely mischaracterizing Nicks piece. He comes out against zoning codes, and argues that your beloved “mixed use” neighborhoods are still doomed to failure.

  5. WalMart also has a history of asking for special tax breaks from communities and using government benefits to cover employees’ health needs. As far as big box shopping goes, it’s Costco for me.

    Not that the Trust aren’t jerks intent on imposing their view, but WalMart hardly has clean hands.

  6. I LOVE suburban sprawl. It creates the optimum lifestyle for me. I can choose to drive to the filthy crime ridden, er, vibrant urban culture of the city and pay for parking if I choose, but I still get to live most of my life in relative quiet with a yard of my own. Walmart makes it easy to buy essentials.

    I note that the primary concern about Walmart isn’t that people don’t like it, the concern is that people do like it. Can’t have that.

  7. “Bargain shopping that costs the community its soul is no bargain,” says Richard Moe, president of National Trust for Historic Preservation.

    I don’t think I want a Congressionally-mandated NPO making statements or decisions about my soul.

  8. M1EK does bring up a good point. When the Inglewood Cit Council voted against Walmart they weren’t voting against allowing a big box store, but for suspending environmental regulations and extra tax breaks for Walmart. Say what you will about the glories of big boxes versus mom and pops, but the smaller stores don’t stand a chance if they’re playing by different, more expensive rules.

  9. My cover of Reason showed a road bordered by trees, with a few visable houses, but mostly not. You just can’t get this in the city.

  10. Vermont will be destroyed by big-box retailers? Do we really want such a wussy state in the US? Maybe we need a constitutional amendment: “No State, lacking the Moral Gumption to deal with large Retailers, shall remain in the Union.”

    Don’t like Wal-Mart? Don’t shop there. Don’t want others shopping there? Persuade them! (And I’m not in a Wal-Mart, Target or Costco more than once a year.)

    Geez.

  11. Normally, I’m a pro-corporate guy myself, but I think that some people are missing the point with Wal-Mart and why I will never shop there. Eminent domain. As time goes on I read more about towns seizing people’s land, people who have lived there for decades, sometimes generations. And why, because what they pay in property taxes doesn’t suit the local governments and Wal-Mart (and others to be sure) go in and tell the towns how much revenue they can earn and the city council starts taking private property to line their own pockets. As libertarians you have ask yourself, what means more: Individual rights or corporate rights?

  12. Walmart must be getting some corporate welfare, I mean, last I checked Vermont had less than 400 or so people in it — thats like one walmart to every 20 people — who is going to work there… 😉

  13. I have never set foot in a WalMart. If one opens in Manhattan, I’ll check it out. Other big box stores have figured out how to operate in the city. It’s not that hard – just remove the parking lot, cut the store into quarters and stack the quarters on top of one another.

  14. In another thread, Joe insisted that I would be a hypocrite if I don’t speak out about snob zoning.

    I don’t know how Wal-Mart relates to snob zoning, but I know that when Wal-Mart comes to town there’s a lot of politicking and some of it relates to zoning. The pro-Walmart politicians often try to enact laws that will make it easier for Wal-Mart to come to town. The anti-Walmart politicians will try to enact laws that will make it more difficult for Wal-Mart to come to town.

    Anyway, I don’t know if anti-Wal-Mart zoning laws count as snob-zoning or not. Or maybe it’s the pro-Wal-Mart zoning laws. Either way, in order to be consistent and avoid Joe’s awesome wrath, I’m going to say that I’m against any snob zoning in regards to Wal-Mart.

    Happy now?

    (Hey, look, thoreau is in an argument with Joe. Maybe he really is a real libertarian after all? 🙂

  15. I live in Vermont; it has a population of approximately 650,000. To be blunt, I’ve never lived anywhere in the US where I felt the hand of government less.

  16. As to whether Wal-Mart threatens Vermont’s “unique” way of life, well, it might; however, as Vermont can’t remain a dairy and small town state forever.

  17. Some factoids that came up in my database class yesterday (Wal-mart has a BIG database system):

    * Wal-mart will require all of its suppliers to use RFID for inventory tracking within two years.
    * Wal-mart accounts for 25% of all retail commerce in the US.
    * Every shelf on the floor of a Wal-mart store is rented by some supplier, making it effectively an unmanned market stall.

    Also, according to recent report by a policy group, Wal-mart has received at least $1 billion in public subsidies. However, most of the subsidies claimed by the report are tax abatements and infrastructure. These are not subsidies in the sense of special gifts of taxpayer money, since many city governments are responsible for infrastructure development generally.

    The policy group is not against subsidies per se, only those that violate the law or reduce employment.

    I’m troubled to find some instances of Wal-mart receiving condemned property, since I stopped shopping at Target several years ago over the same issue in my home town.

  18. MJ,

    Actually, given that Wal-Mart has been run-out of a number of Vermont towns, your argument lacks credibility. Look, many many Vermonters don’t mind driving up to Essex Junction off exit 12 to go to the big box stores and the like, while living in their rural towns, etc. Anyway, you’re also a jerk for assuming that Vermonters want a Wal-Mart in Newport, Bennington, Vergennes, Middlebury, or wherever the hell they want to plant them.

  19. Indeed, to be blunt, the lot of you commenting on Vermont are all likely clueless twits, since you’ve likely never lived here, nor do you understand the culture or politics of the state. Hell, I’ve been here four years, and I only now think I’m getting to know the place.

  20. Endangered historic places and environmentally sensitive areas are code words for illiberal regressive habitat.

  21. Gary,

    I may wrong, but I don’t think “The National Trust for Historic Preservation” is a Vermont organization, nor do I think that they have the best interests of Vermonters at heart. The Trust people obviously believe that shoppers will prefer Wal-Mart over the other available options if given the choice so therefore they try to limit the choice. That is why I object to the Trust’s meddling.

    If the good people of Vermont will not support Wal-Mart with their business, then that is their decision and it will not bother me one way or the other. I am unclear on how that qualifies me as a “jerk”.

  22. I wonder how widespread a problem corporate welfare is for Walmart?

    Any towns that oppose having a Walmart, are obviously not going to offer Walmart any deals. And in these situations, Walmart is not going to come asking for them, since that would generate opposition.

    I was following a recent story about Walmart trying to open a new superstore location in a wealthy area. They obtained commercially zoned farm land, and were not asking for any subsidies. Many of the citizens demanded the city ban Walmart, but they said they couldn’t do anything because Walmart was following all existing laws and zoning.

  23. “…anti-human commercial strips…”

    Bwahaha! Enter: The Phrase Most Likely to be Uttered by Joe.

  24. Russ, single use zoning not only forbids residences in commercial zones, but also stores in residential zones.

    The purpose of single-use zoning, created by Hoover’s Commerce Dept, was to eliminate the messy, dynamic street life that exists in traditional neighborhoods. All that mingling of commerce and home life was deemed improper by Victorian fussbudgets and Progressive Reformers alike, who thought the home (and residential neighborhood) needed to be protected from the intrusion of corrupting commerce. Once the reasonable idea of using zoning to keep homes from suffering from the air, water, and noise pollution of heavy industry was established, it was a small step to protect them from the moral pollution of commerce. Especially since commerce has the annoying habit of bringing people of different classes, races, and sexes together. FDR DID consider walkability in community design. His model communities contain useful walking paths separated from the roads. The anti-urban politics that drove 20th century development policies first expressed themselves as a preference for villages, not isolated homesteads.

    But yes, the massive spending on highway projects has led to automobile oriented development around interchanges, just as spending on rail transit leads to transit/pedestrian-oriented development around train stations.

    “large apartment complexes are usually right next to the commercial property, set off from the highway to reduce the noise interference.” Congratulations, you’ve stumbled onto another one of joe’s pet peeves – the residential development located 50 feet away from a shopping center, situated and laid out so that residents cannot walk down the street to the stores, but have to drive 1.5 miles around a superblock, park in the giant lot, and walk a greater distance than that between their unit and their destination anyway. In many cases, the permit required to build the residential complex does not allow any stores therein, and that required for the mall doesn’t allow residential units.

    And sprawl development generates greater runoff per unit, when you consider the floor area under each 100 sq feet of roof (two story house vs four story mixed use building), and the greater area of pavement – driveways, subdivision roads, arterial roads – required for each sprawly unit. When you apply this principle of “pavement efficiency” to the stores they frequent big box with huge parking lot and long frontage on a multilane arterial vs. corner stores and downtowns), the discrepency gets even worse. If you’ve got 10,000 people living with 40 square miles, there will be much, much less runoff if they are living in a town with traditional neighborhoods and downtown vs a sprawling suburb.

    The progressive-era concerns about fire, floods, light, and air in building design were easily answered by relatively minor standards in building and neighborhood design, that still allowed urban densities. I’d estimate that 1-3% of zoning the reduction in density required by sprawl zoning is necessary to address these concerns.

    FDR

  25. Sometimes joe argues that when citizens in a community vote to obstruct a big box, that is their exercise of liberty, that they understand the villanous threat to their community represented by the opportunity pay less less for diapers. Other times joe argues that when citizens vote to obstruct quaint commercial districts within their residential enclaves, and keep noisy retail near the interchanges they are ignoring the villianous effects of autocentric culture. No wonder he’s a Kerry supporter, eh?

    Pick a side, joe. Or admit the arrogance in thinking you know what is best for all. I know, your side is against large corporate endeavours in any arena. Unless controlled by the state (and the degreed bureaucrats within).

  26. not “FDR did consider.” “New Deal-era city planning did consider…”

  27. “Once the reasonable idea of using zoning to keep homes from suffering from the air, water, and noise pollution of heavy industry was established, it was a small step to protect them from the moral pollution of commerce.”

    Why not establish the principle that you can build whatever you want wherever you want, BUT if you tangibly harm your neighbors who were there before you, you are responsible for damages?

  28. “The purpose of single-use zoning… was to eliminate the messy, dynamic street life that exists in traditional neighborhoods.”

    Some would argue that the zoning was used to eliminate the pollution, disease, and darkness. Depends on your point of view, I guess.

  29. Best of both worlds:

    Pick a nice place to live. The two or three times a year you want to do some low discount shopping, go to the ATM and get enough cash. Then drive to Wal-Mart and use the cash to buy what you want. Then they won’t have any record that a resident of Your Neighborhood bought anything there and they will have less tempatation to open a store closer to you. This doesn’t stop your neighbor from going there and using their damn credit card, but there’s only so much you can control.

  30. Here we go again – another treatise from Joe about people being “engineered” into the suburbs and into car-culture by government.

    The so-called “traditional” neighborhoods he likes so much and wants to force everyone into were (and are) no more “natural” than the suburbs he claims people were engineered into. Living patterns of people have changed over time in response to techological changes. At one time before the industrial revolution, most people lived on farms and in rurual areas. When the technological changes of the industrial revolution changed the economic landscape, people migrated to the cities – not because they all thought jammed up urban living was the epitome of human existence but because they needed to to get jobs and make a living. People lived in close proximity to each other and commercial enterprises for a time because technology had not developed sufficiently to provide them with any other choices. The development of the automobile and road systems to serve it changed all that and the living patterns changed accordingly. People weren’t “engineered” into the car culture, they willingly embraced it. Cars meant freedom to travel great distances and many places on one’s own schedule and made it possible to live further away from crowded and noisy cities. The government, just like Ford and General Motors was respinding to the demand for cars and the freedom of mobility they provided – it wasn’t engineering that demand. The government simply wasn’t (and isn’t) capable of forcing that many people into adopting a car-culture and living patterns if those people never wanted to live that way to begin with.

  31. I don’t doubt for a second that sprawl is a product of technology developments and individual choice. At the beginning of the 20th century, if a store was halfway across town, how were you going to get there? How do you get there today? and how much did it cost, relative to household income?

    Back to the Wal-Mart topic: when I read some microfilmed newspapers from the early Great Depression era (which wasn’t nearly as rough in my home town as you might expect) the enemy of local business was the travelling salesman. The business association ran ads depicting salesmen as devious characters and telling housewives to berate them about all the money they were taking out of the community.

    The moral: local businesses do not care whether their competition is big or small. It’s all competition.

  32. My conviction is that when a technology has to break the rules, that is a sign that this technology is old and used-up. For example, the computer industry takes advantage of green politics, saying in effect, “we can easily comply with all kinds of environmental regulations, right or wrong, but those old automobile fuddy-duddys can’t, so let’s all go hug a tree.” Every time you turn a computer on, it displays an eco-message. Amazon and its natural allies, Federal Express and United Parcel Service, are in the same situation, vis a vis Wal-Mart. Robotics is the next wave of computers. Robotics helps Amazon, Fed Ex, and UPS much more than it helps Wal-Mart, because Wal-Mart is set up around using the customers’ labor to move goods. Wal-Mart naturally caters to people who don’t put a very high value on their labor. Amazon/Fed Ex/UPS on the other hand, are geared to comparatively high value customers. They can use the robots to expedite delivery, by doing things like packing goods into parcels faster, and moving those parcels through sorting centers faster. Using these techniques, a chain of twenty or forty warehouses, cleverly placed, is enough to support overnight delivery without recourse to airplanes. By contrast, Wal-Mart has thousands of stores. Zoning works in favor of Amazon in the short run, but in the long run, robots are cheaper than minimum wage workers anyway.

  33. I’ve always found it amusing that at the voter level, it is the blue collar workin man who clamors for special perks for companies. People who represent a district get re-elected in proportion to the amount of ‘jobs’ and ‘growth’ they bring to an area. Of course jobs and growth are market phenomenon, so the only way politicians can make those things come about is to reduce the regulatory and tax burden on employers.

    If you are a donkey, this puts you in an odd spot. The technocrat part of your coalition wanted the regulatory burden to discourage development, because development = Earth Death. Unfortunately, the labor part of your coalition needs somewhere to labor.

  34. Ha, this reminds me of these idiotic new commercials for the National Trust for Historic Preservation…where a grainy, ghostly image of people getting married at a church is superimposed under a modern gas station, and a voice-over whines, “when your kids ask where you got married, will you have to tell them, ‘over there, by the unleaded’?”

    Yes, and so what if I do? If the church can’t stay in business, and it has to sell its land to Shell, then why should anyone stop them? And who determines which churches are worthy of preserving? What if I get married at a church that happens to be a vinyl-clad shack? Will the National Trust step in and say “whoah, wait a minute: people got MARRIED at this shack! We can’t let you build a gas station in place of the shack, because then, what would those people tell their children when they ask where they got married?” Ha.

    Back to BigBox stores: the best point made from Nick’s article is this: how is it that when a community needs to make a decision on something, a town council vote means more than people voting with their feet? If the “community” really didn’t want/need WalMart, then the “community” wouldn’t shop there, and WalMart would be forced to shut down. This crap of “the “community” knows what the community wants more than the community itself does” is pathetic. The only thing that needs to be said is this: if the community doesn’t want WalMart, then they won’t shop at WalMart.

  35. Predictably, Nick’s piece combines interesting, thoughtful meditations on economic history with slanted, misinformed statements about regulation and communities.

    The conceit that the opposition to sprawl comes from it’s newness and unfamiliarity, while support for human-scale communities is conservative, is laughable. Suburban sprawl is now the default community style for most of America, and walkable, humane landscapes are unusual and innovative. People don’t oppose Wal-Mart and anti-human commercial strips because they’re unfamiliar with them, but because they know them so well.

    The pretense that the shift to automobile-oriented commerce was entirely or mostly a market-driven phenomenon demonstrates either an ignorance of history, a willingness to deceive, or both. Note that Nick never mentions, in his denunciation of zoning, that the primary purpose and impact of zoning over the last three generations has been to forbid the construction of stores withing residential neighborhoods, and require such giant parking lots that big box is the only way to make the numbers work. The selectiveness of his denunciations should raise a flag for anyone who is vaguely familiar with the issues involved.

    And while shopping centers and automobile ownership did indeed become common as far back as the 20s, it’s important to not that it was not until 30-40 years later that neighborhood- and city commercial centers began their decline. The two were able to coexist for a generation and a half, until the government adopted regulations and financing schemes that banned of severly disincented urban areas and town/neighborhood centers. Go back to FDR and his model planned communities, or Robert Moses and his city destroying (in so many ways) highway projects, and the government’s purposeful elimination of cities and promotion of auto-oriented, single-use suburbia is obvious.

    Yet the lesson Nick takes away from the massive, disruptive pro-car planning schemes of mid-centruy is…the shift to auto-oriented development was a natural result of the market! Can there be any better definition of “conservative” than “one who accepts the agendas of dead men as natural?”

  36. “Can there be any better definition of “conservative” than “one who accepts the agendas of dead men as natural?”

    How about if the dead men are Marx and Engels? 🙂

  37. The idea that the fight is between Mom & Pop shops and stores like Walmart is just half the story. Even without Walmart, many have to compete agains the internet (which is Walmart’s true compeditor too). If small shops want to survive they have to go for a value-added approach and become boutiques. You CAN charge more and get customers if you provide something else the value, like knowledgeable staff or even the idea that your customers are “better” than Walmart customers. It’s the small stores that are in low income areas (where price matters most) or those that don’t innovate that are doomed.

  38. One man’s “goverment-induced sprawl” is another man’s “free-market upsizing”.

    joe, I agree with some of your comments, but not all. Is the retail zoning really designed to forbid these businesses from being near residences, or is it because there are currently existing state and federal highways there before the development starts? Seems to me lots of people don’t want their homes near the noisy highway, so they zone those areas commercial. I don’t think it’s as cut and dried as “forbidding”, because the large apartment complexes are usually right next to the commercial property, set off from the highway to reduce the noise interference. Also, you mentioned runoff in another thread; seems to me a lot of the sprawl zoning follows from that. This old farmland doesn’t have a large sewer/water system underneath it; the new homes are often using wells and septic systems, and when they aren’t they still have to be cognizant of flooding issues. Just about every big city has some flood or fire story in their folklore that has a lot to do with the subsequent zoning and building codes. The sprawl may be a reaction to reducing insurance and taxation. I’m sure there’s a developer lurking here who can address this.

    As a side note, why would FDR even consider walkability in the first place? Don’t think of it as sprawl, think of it as “handicapped accessable”.

  39. Pleae note, Mark, that I never actually argued in favor of using zoning or ballot initiatives to obstruct big boxes. I just poked holes in the arguments of their supporters, mainly because I find ignorant, misleading blather about matters I know a lot about to be annoying. But yes, I suppose my history of seeing my informed, nuanced points distorted into convenient bogey men may well give me sympathy for Sen. Kerry.

    fy, “Why not establish the principle that you can build whatever you want wherever you want, BUT if you tangibly harm your neighbors who were there before you, you are responsible for damages?” Because by the time the factory is built, begins operating, pollutes the neighborhood, and the case gets through court, the neighborhood is already irrevocably damaged, and the chance of the factory being dismantled and the land restored approaches zero.

    Russ D, you’re just flat our wrong. Tamping down on wicked, commerce-tainted street life (and segregating poor, vulnerable women and children from it) was a much-lauded, openly-promoted goal of modernist (1900-1970) planning and zoning schemes – the ones that created spawl and the automobile city. I suggest you read some Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright, or (for a good dissent) Jane Jacobs. The zoning scheme that made sprawl the predominant style of development in this country is based not on 1910-era light/air/sanitation concerns, but 1930s-1950s era “turn your back on the street” theories. This concept informed both the urban renewal plans that created places like Cabrini Green, and auto-oriented suburban zoning.

    Gil, “People weren’t “engineered” into the car culture, they willingly embraced it.” Now you’re confusing car ownership with car culture. Mass ownership of cars preceeded sprawl by 1-2 generations. Development still proceeded along traditional lines during this period. It was not until the government began encouraging suburbanizaiton and openly working to reorder traditional cities and neighborhoods that sprawl began. Your narrative must sound nice to someone with your ideology, but the facts are on my side. Read more. Though, to be fair, many smart growth environmentalists make this same mistake.

    “Cars meant freedom to travel great distances and many places on one’s own schedule and made it possible to live further away from crowded and noisy cities.” Well, you also need huge investments in a highways system to make that work, and plenty of eminent domain takings to build it.

    “The government, just like Ford and General Motors was respinding to the demand for cars and the freedom of mobility they provided – it wasn’t engineering that demand.” When General Motors founded the American Streetcar Company to purchase and put out of business trolley systems, those systems were still quite profitable. Again, you need to read more, and assume less, so you won’t make as many embarrassing, demonstrable errors. “Geography of Nowhere” has a good libertarian take on these issues.

    “At the beginning of the 20th century, if a store was halfway across town, how were you going to get there?” That’s just the point, John. At the beginning of the 20th century, stores were located where people could get to them without cars. Cars (and the regulations developed to encourage their use) didn’t just allow people to be more mobile within the existing residential and retail geography; they changed that geography, to such an extent that those who cannot or do not drive now have much less access to retail than people in the early 20th century. Those that do end up burning a gallon of gas to buy a gallon of milk. Though to answer your question, you took the trolley, which was probably privately owned and profitable.

  40. May 23, 2004

    Towns: Crime follows Wal-Mart

    By Alexandria Sage

    The Associated Press

    HARRISVILLE, Utah – Officer Nate Thompson remembers when green fields and an egg farm stood here on the site of the 212,000-square-foot Wal-Mart.

    Before the 24-hour Supercenter opened, the town’s approximately 4,000 residents retired to their homes after dark, with two solitary bars providing the only late-night distractions.

    “We’re just kind of a boring little city, you know,” said Thompson, 31.

    But boring is a thing of the past in Harrisville – at least for the Harrisville Police Department. Since Wal-Mart opened in early 2001, calls to the department have jumped by a third. The number of officers has increased from four to six. The store’s parking lot, where more than half the city’s DUIs originate, is now patrolled overnight.

    “Our DUIs skyrocketed,” said Thompson, cruising the parking lot one recent Friday night. “It just went through the roof.”

    As the world’s largest retailer puts its stamp on rural communities, some towns are discovering that while the 24-hour big-box store may bring financial benefits, they go hand-in-hand with an unintended downside: increased burdens on law enforcement.

    “You just about name it,” said Clinton Police Chief Bill Chilson. “Domestic violence, shoplifting, fraud scams, we’ve had DUI, traffic accidents, medical situations – we haven’t had any shootings yet.”

    Chilson estimated that the population of his city of 18,000 nearly doubles in size each day because of his city’s Supercenter, one of 19 Wal-Mart discount store-supermarket hybrids in Utah and nearly 1,400 around the country. Warned of what to expect by similar towns with 24-hour Wal-Marts, he recalled one court judge asking him, “Have you been Wal-Mart-ized yet?”

    In some towns across the country, law-enforcement agencies have even opened substations in their local Wal-Marts to better respond to the increased activity. The Durango Police Department opened a substation in the Durango Wal-Mart shortly after it opened because the store provided a space. An officer has never been stationed there full time. The substation is now closed.

    Durango police Capt. Dale Smith said Durango’s Wal-Mart has not been a hotspot for crime. Theft is almost a daily occurrence, however. On Thursday there was a report of a woman shoplifter who was being combative and biting store employees.

    “Wal-Mart is pretty aggressive about watching for and capturing shoplifters,” Smith said, so police do respond to a lot of shoplifting calls.

    The parking lot at Durango’s Wal-Mart is monitored by cameras, Smith said, and police patrol the area frequently. Those are two deterrents that may be working to limit major crime, he said.

    Wal-Mart says it works closely with law enforcement on crime-prevention measures, including staff training and community outreach. Each store has cameras and undercover security guards, many of them former law enforcement officers.

    “Before we build a store, we begin a conversation with local law enforcement and we begin building a relationship with them,” said Sharon Weber, a spokeswoman for the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer.

    Overwhelmingly, police chiefs defended Wal-Mart as an asset to the community and helpful to law enforcement, providing full access and information for investigations and grants to fund police projects, to say nothing of the tax benefits the store brings the community.

    “Thank goodness for Wal-Mart, that’s all I can say,” said Harrisville Mayor Fred Oates. “Any mayor in the United States who had the opportunity would be glad to have a Wal-Mart.”

    Harrisville earns about $60,000 monthly in sales taxes from Wal-Mart, Oates estimated, and that figure will jump 40 percent after an access road to the store is paid for out of sales tax revenue this year.

    Still, when the retail powerhouse is built in a small rural community, the effect on the local police department can be devastating.

    “It is at times overwhelming,” said Chief John Slauch, of the West Sadsbury Township Police Department in rural Pennsylvania.

    And municipal taxes don’t cover the extra costs incurred by the eight-officer police force, he said.

    “I really don’t think Wal-Mart is concerned with what happens on the local level; they’re concerned with how much money they’re making,” he said, adding, “They’re not looking at the burden they’re creating.”

    A criminal magnet

    Back in Harrisville, more than 100 cars are still parked in the vast Wal-Mart parking lot well past midnight. Drug users on methamphetamine tend to gravitate to this store in the wee hours of the night.

    “We look at Wal-Mart as the first line of defense in terms of crime coming into the city,” said Officer Thompson, sitting in his black Camaro patrol car.

    Thompson looks for the paranoia and uncontrolled body movements that betrays “tweakers,” addicts high on meth. Drug DUIs outnumber those involving alcohol three to one in Harrisville, and most originate in the Wal-Mart parking lot.

    “No one wants to pay more money – including tweakers,” he said, laughing.

    In all its stores, Wal-Mart has limited the amount of cold medicine any one person can buy, since over-the-counter medications containing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine can be used to produce methamphetamine.

    Besides the 150 DUIs last year, most of the crime is directed at Wal-Mart, including shoplifting, check fraud and petty scams. The store’s most serious incident was an officer-involved shooting in January, when a 25-year-old man pointed a fake gun at an officer who returned fire, wounding the suspect.

    The vast majority of those arrested in Harrisville are from neighboring Ogden, population 77,000, said Harrisville Police Chief Max Jackson. Because of the increased volume of cases, court times have been extended to allow the city prosecutor time to negotiate pleas.

    Despite the additional burdens, both Thompson and Jackson defend Wal-Mart as “good partners.” Since the store opened, Wal-Mart has donated funds for a bike patrol program, firearms, computers in patrol cars and training materials and equipment.

    Still, Jackson, who sits on the board of The National Center for Rural Law Enforcement, said he plans to raise Wal-Mart’s impact on small police agencies as a nationally growing issue when the board next meets.

    As for Thompson, Wal-Mart may have handed him an unintended prize. He was named the Utah Peace Officers Association Officer of the Year for 2002.

    “It was based on the amount of arrests I made – basically because of Wal-Mart.”

    Herald Staff Writer Shane Benjamin contributed to this report.

  41. Joe,

    “Because by the time the factory is built…”

    But if there’s a credible threat of being punished for polluting, why would they build a polluting factory in the first place? Instead, we keep the “small step” to zoning out “moral pollution,” as you put it yourself, alive.

  42. “Gil, “People weren’t “engineered” into the car culture, they willingly embraced it.” Now you’re confusing car ownership with car culture. Mass ownership of cars preceeded sprawl by 1-2 generations. Development still proceeded along traditional lines during this period. It was not until the government began encouraging suburbanizaiton and openly working to reorder traditional cities and neighborhoods that sprawl began. Your narrative must sound nice to someone with your ideology, but the facts are on my side. Read more. Though, to be fair, many smart growth environmentalists make this same mistake.”

    Sory Joe, I don’t buy it. You aren’t the judge of what the “facts” are. “Mass ownership of cars did NOT preceed the suburbs by one to two generations. Mass ownership of cars means that virtually everyone in each family has his or her own car (like they do now) – not just one car per family that was used for Sunday drives and special trips. As cars got easier to drive with automatic transmissions and power steering and power brakes and more amenities like air conditioning and stereo systems, etc. the demand kept going up. Many people think of their cars as an extension of themselves – not just a machine to get from point A to point B. No one needs a Corvette or Viper to do that.

    “”Cars meant freedom to travel great distances and many places on one’s own schedule and made it possible to live further away from crowded and noisy cities.” Well, you also need huge investments in a highways system to make that work, and plenty of eminent domain takings to build it.”

    There is nothing any more “natural” about building rail lines than there is about building highways. Highways to drive their cars on is what the people wanted and that is what government is providing to them – just as it should.

  43. If “people” wanted highways and not transit, then why were the transit companies shut down by GM so profitable at the time of their closings?

    I tell you you’re wrong on the facts, because I’m eduated in this area, and write things that are blatantly false. You can either read on the matter and improve your understanding, or not.

    Don’t take my word for it. Read up.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.