Reporters often ask for evidence of Wal-Mart’s economic impact on a local trade area. Often, local merchants don’t want to talk about the true impact of big box stores on their sales, because they want to maintain an image of prosperity and invulnerability. But every once in a while a merchant will be perfectly candid with the public. Such is the case in Belllingham, Washington, where the head of a regional grocery company didn’t try to put a shine on the apple. Brown & Cole, which owns 31 stores in Washington state, is trying to sell eight of its grocery stores. Stores are up for sale in Arlington (2), Stanwood, Burlington, Yakima, Pasco, Kennewick and Okanogan, where President Craig Cole says the trade areas were all “heavily impacted by Wal-Mart.” In about as blunt a statement as possible, Cole explained, “This is in large part due to two things: health-care costs and the deliberate saturation of the market by Wal-Mart.” The Arkansas retailer has been agressively proposing new supercenters in Washington, and in a number of areas, found the apple picking in Washington to be harder than expected. “The American worker and local businesses are becoming roadkill in Wal-Mart’s march toward the worldwide domination of commerce,” Cole said. Brown & Cole, which was founded 96 years ago, gives health care insurance to 95% of its workers, and is a unionized shop. “It used to be accepted that good companies took care of their employees,” Cole told the Associated Press. He said Wal-Mart only offers “inferior wages and benefits for its workers, outsourcing jobs to foreign producers and showing little regard for the environment.” A Wal-Mart spokesman made a very Darwinian comment about the stores’ closings: “Ultimately, the customer chooses which businesses survive. That is why we focus on serving their needs. We assume our competitors do the same.”
Wal-Mart is a chain store — a chain of exploitation. And along every link in the chain, someone gets exploited. Brown & Cole clearly offered workers a better wage and health benefit package than Wal-Mart. Less than half of Wal-Mart workers use the company’s health plan. Which is why Wal-Mart ends up on the top of the list in many states for workers and dependents that use Medicaid health subsidies from the taxpayers. Craig Cole’s “roadkill” comment is along the same lines as former Wal-Mart stores CEO, Tom Coughlin, who said, “At Wal-Mart we make dust, our competitors eat dust.” The employees at the Brown & Cole stores are eating dust this week, courtesy of Wal-Mart shoppers.