Wal-Mart has unveiled a new tactic in its strategy to win the hearts and minds of local voters. The way to a voter’s heart, Wal-Mart believes, is through her stomach. On November 6, 2006, Sprawl-Busters reported that Wal-Mart had proposed to expand its store in Antioch, California, by 72,980 s.f. to create a 203,103 s.f. supercenter on Lone Tree Way. This week, the Antioch City Council voted to reject the expansion plan. Mayor Donald Freitas and two Council members voted against Wal-Mart, and two councilors voted in support. “Certainly, we’re disappointed,” a Wal-Mart’s spokesman told the Contra Costa Times. “We hoped the Council would have recognized the outpouring of support for this project from the community, and the more than 250 jobs it would have created.” During debate on the project, Wal-Mart had agreed to slightly reduce the square footage by 8,000 s.f. to meet size restrictions at their current location. To rally their suppters, Wal-Mart hosted a “Valentine’s reception” an hour before the city council vote. “It is critical that the council knows Antioch residents support this store,” the company said in a flier that was handed out to Wal-Mart shoppers over the past weekend. “Please attend the meeting and show your love for Wal-Mart and your support for the proposed Supercenter.” Wal-Mart put on their feed at the Pizzazz Event Center across the street from City Hall. Beverages and appetizers were served. Wal-Mart said the event was a chance for Wal-Mart supporters to come together. “People have taken time out of their personal lives to support us,” he said. “This is a chance to do something for them and offer them some refreshments before the meeting, which is likely to take some time.” The Wal-Mart spokesman said such receptions are common practice for the retail giant. Residents opposed to the Wal-Mart Supercenter said the proposal would increase traffic, crime and noise. When one Councilman heard of Wal-Mart pre-vote “reception,” he told the newspaper it left him “at a loss for words.” “It seems as though they want to do just about anything to move this project along,” he said. “They obviously want to pack City Hall with supporters.” City officials were concerned that Wal-Mart’s expansion violates size limits in Williamson Ranch Plaza. Attorneys for the project’s opponents say Wal-Mart has used flawed mathematics in calculating the total square footage of the project. When the votes were counted, Wal-Mart supporters went home empty-handed, but with a full stomach.
Wal-Mart held a similar “reception” recently in Lancaster, Massachusetts, before a meeting of the Planning Board. After the reception, a couple of town residents wandered over to the hearing. Wal-Mart had already identified their supporters through telephoning and mailing, and invited only their supporters to the reception. The joke in Lancaster was that Wal-Mart, which is the largest importer of Chinese products in the world, had fed its supporters with Chinese take-out. If there was a fortune cookie in the Antioch reception, it might have read: “Good Food Leads To Bad Vote.” At least Wal-Mart supporters can look forward to a little chow for their loyalty to the company.