There is no other retailer in America that comes close to the negative ratings that Wal-Mart gets at the ballot box. Last night in Westminster, Colorado, Wal-Mart spent more than $75,000 on a campaign that just narrowly went their way. According to the Rocky Mountain News, 10,481 voters, or 52.2% agreed to allow land to be rezoned for the community’s third Wal-Mart supercenter. But a citizen group effort to block rezoning of the land to keep Wal-Mart out garnered 9,602 votes, or 47.8%. With roughly 20,083 votes counted last night, it appeared that Wal-Mart squeaked out more votes, and spent far more of its corporate money to just get by. Ballot issues 2A and 2B arose after anti-Wal-Mart activists collected more than 9,000 signatures, requiring the Westminster City council to allow citizens to decide whether to overrule their decision to allow the store at the southwest corner of Sheridan Boulevard and 72nd Avenue. Not only were the citizens fighting Wal-Mart, but the Mayor, the City Council, and some of the city’s employees all banded together to defend their position to let Wal-Mart saturate the city with superstores. The text of Measure 2A, which would have repealed the Wal-Mart zoning was as follows: SHALL ORDINANCE 3216 (COUNCILLOR’S BILL NO.32, SERIES 2005) AMENDING THE WESTMINSTER COMPREHENSIVE LAND USE PLAN BY CHANGING THE LAND USE DESIGNATIONS FOR THE APPROXIMATELY 0.9 ACRE PROPERTY AT 7007 SHERIDAN BOULEVARD FROM “R-3.5 RESIDENTIAL” TO “RETAIL COMMERCIAL,” AND FOR THE APPROXIMATELY 15.5 ACRES LOCATED IMMEDIATELY WEST OF THE EXISTING SHOPPING CENTER, CALLED SHOENBERG CENTER, AT THE SOUTHWEST CORNER OF SHERIDAN BLVD. AND 72ND AVE., FROM “R-8 RESIDENTIAL” TO “RETAIL COMMERCIAL”, BE REPEALED?
It is truly remarkable that nearly half the voters in Westminster were willing to reject the wisdom of their Mayor and City Council, and ignore the tens of thousands of dollars in Wal-Mart money that went into a campaign to convince them that their city needed a third supercenter. Westminster has been split nearly in half over this vote, and it is an issue that will not soon be forgotten. All over a retail store. There has not been a retailer so reviled in America since the anti-chain store tax movement of the 1930s targeted the A&P chain. Wal-Mart single-handedly has made retailing into a dirty word. Because there is no campaign finance laws governing local ballot questions, “citizen” Wal-Mart was able to dominate the voter’s minds by bankrolling this campaign almost exclusively. Even with massive spending, even with the good old boys political network, the citizens of Westminster almost gave Wal-Mart a shove out. If only 440 votes had changed, the city would have tossed them out. Wal-Mart can call this a victory, but anytime 48% of the voters reject a retailer, that company has an everyday public image problem. It is perhaps because of outcomes like this that Wal-Mart has dramatically kicked up its media/public relations effort to try and reverse the growing negative reputation of the company. Westminster has gained a lot of shoppers who will not be stopping by the new — or the old — Wal-Mart supercenters in their city.