Companies like Wal-Mart and Home Depot frequently minimize the impact of citizen opposition on their plans, calling such opposition the work of a just a few noisy critics. “A lot of times the outcry of special interest groups is a vocal minority and a direct assault on the consumer’s right to choose,” says Wal-Mart’s Daphne Davis. But if you read the industry magazines that specialize in the discount retail business, a different concern emerges. In the February 2000 issue of The Discount Merchandiser, an industry publication, a 5 page article says that “small grassroots neighborhood organizations (and) well-financed statewide union and political groups…are beginning to play havoc on the expansion plans of many of the country’s top retailers, including Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Costco and Target.” One mass retail executive is quoted by reporter Renee Kruger as saying: “The pendulum is swinging in favor of those who favor keeping big retailers out of town, and it is creating a serious situation for the real big chains.” Grassroots community opposition has become a visible worry for the chain stores. “This is becoming an increasingly huge issue in our industry, and our members are extremely concerned about it,” says a senior vice president for the International Mass Retail Association (IMRA). “Part of what makes it so difficult is it is most often dealt with at the local legislative level, and so we have to fight it over and over again each time it comes up in a different town. So it never goes away.”
The Discount Merchandiser article calls Al Norman “without a doubt…the most well-known activist involved in the issue, complete with his own sprawl-busters website, which promises to ‘help communities stop the big box bulldozers'”. The article also quotes an attorney in a lawfirm that represents shopping center developers as saying: “My role is in support of development, and I counsel clients as to how to anticipate and deal with Al Norman’s issues. The big box retailer needs to be prepared to respond to somebody as organized as he is. He’s been around and he knows every potential pressure point. Big box retailes should anticipate the NIMBY problem first because its a PR problem as much as anything else.” Chain stores are urged in the article to have a legal and public relations team in every community where they plan to develop a store. So the next time Wal-Mart of Home Depot says they are not bothered by these “vocal minorities”, just quote this “playing havoc” article. And remind the retailers that as long as they pursue incompatible development, citizen opposition is a given that “never goes away.” As the Discount Merchandiser article begins: “The message is out: Mass retailers, stay out of town!” (For more info about this article, go to www.discountmerchandiser.com).