The Saint Consulting Group, based on Hingham, Massachusetts, has released a second annual national survey on Americans’ attitude towards Wal-Mart land use proposals. The study came to Sprawl-Buster’s attention as part of an article about Wal-Mart in the community of Berlin, Pennsylvania. The Saint Group specializes “in winning zoning and land-use battles” according to their website. The firm has been around since 1983, and helps its clients “by securing public approvals.” Presumably the company has been retained by big box developers to overcome local opposition groups, because most citizen’s groups don’t have the long money it takes to hire consultants like Saint. This past year, the firm had clients in 42 states. It keeps its client list secret, but says it made $26 million in fees this past year. Last winter, the company put out a press release about The Saint Index, a survey that “confirms Americans’ love-hate relationship with Wal-Mart.” According to Saint, “Even as the global company revs up a campaign to protect its reputation, and despite Wal-Mart’s undeniable popularity among consumers, almost two-thirds of those surveyed (63%) said that they would oppose a Wal-Mart store if one were proposed in their community.” The survey found that one out of five Americans have opposed a project in their communities. Of that number, 24% opposed “big box” retailers such as Target and K-Mart. According to The Saint Index, “only landfills, quarries, power plants, and casinos generate more vehement community opposition than large retail stores.” Wal-Mart stood alone as especially undesirable. Older, more affluent consumers were its most likely opponents. The survey itself was conducted in October and November of 2005 by the Center for Economic and Civic Opinion at the University of Massachusetts/Lowell. 1,000 people across the United States were polled. The survey shows that Americans are more active and adept at opposing development projects than had been previously imagined. Apparently, the same Saint survey this year shows that 68% of those surveyed did not want a Wal-Mart in their community. The survey itself is not posted on the company’s website.
This, of course, is no news here at Sprawl-Busters, where we have been helping citizen’s groups for more than 13 years. One of the consultants at Saint told the Philadelphia Inquirer that anti Wal-Mart groups are “ending up being the most cohesive and aggressive political organizations in their communities.” But still its nice to have confirmation that nearly 7 in 10 Americans would oppose a Wal-Mart if one were proposed for their community. Wal-Mart always claims that citizens who oppose them are just a vocal minority. But, as it turns out, Americans “love the bargains, hate the box,” the Saint study concludes.