Lincoln Smith also loves Wal-Mart

I grew up in a small town in a poor, rural area of the United States. The downtown was declining, so the town authorities decided to do something drastic. When Wal-Mart expressed interest in building a shopping centre along the highway, the City Council decided to aggressively pursue the possibility (e.g., by annexing the land and connecting city services – such as water & sewer utilities – to the site to make it more attractive). Still, some locals were fearful that it would kill the old downtown or lead to the proceeds of sales being drawn out of the city by Wal-Mart instead of staying in the hands of a local entrepreneur.

In the end, the store was built. It contributed immediately a lot of jobs to the poor rural area, it increased availability of new varieties of products for consumers, and it increased price competition. This caused more shoppers from farther away to stop in the town and that led to a local retail boom. Near to Wal-Mart, other shops and restaurants and a hotel opened. The Wal-Mart store proved to be an economic catalyst that – directly and indirectly – generated improved economic prospects for many unskilled and semi-skilled people. It even generated a few managerial jobs.

Some small shops in the old downtown did close up, as did the one big, uncompetitive local grocery store (union run). But, there has also been some sign of new investment in that old central part of town as a consequence of the growth fuelled in part by Wal-Mart. Together with the retail boom on the highway, the old downtown closings led to reduced costs of rents and created a place for new entrepreneurs to come in. Now in the old downtown there is a variety of new activity like a Chinese restaurant, a sandwich shop, an Indian grocery, some service providers (like a tax preparation service and a lawyer’s office), and even a non-profit performing arts theatre developed by local arts enthusiasts.

So, all parts of town and all parts of society are benefitting.

Author: Lincoln Smith is the pseudonym of a writer who wishes to protect his father’s anonymity in the retelling of the story.

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