At this point, you can’t blame the Wal-Mart PR team in Bentonville, Arkansas from feeling a little bit like a bean that’s been baked — Boston style.
Since July, the giant retailer has been taking heat over its plans to locate stores in the metro markets of Boston and Somerville, MA. The latest New England roasting began more than two months ago, when Wal-Mart’s proposal to open a 34,000 square foot “Market” grocery store in Somerville elicited concerns from Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone. An official in Curtatone’s administration told The Boston Herald that the Mayor had “deep concerns about Wal-Mart’s labor policies that must be addressed before we can support them moving into our community.”
The next day, the Herald ran a follow up story in which Mayor Curtatone was even more pointed in his response. “I’m not prepared to give Wal-Mart my blessing until they address concerns I’ve raised about labor issues,” the Mayor said. “I haven’t seen any evidence that they’ve taken steps to make sure they meet community standards for labor and employment practices that we expect in Somerville.”
Curtatone revealed that Wal-Mart had come calling to City Hall during the winter, and that the Mayor told them at that time that “they had major labor and social policy issues they needed to overcome before they even think about signing a lease here.”
A few days later The Boston Globe editorialized that Wal-Mart “owes the city a plan that’s appropriate to the city, one that includes a store that has a smaller footprint than usual and provides well-paying jobs.”
Wal-Mart was taking a pounding in the press. At the end of August, The Boston Phoenix published an 1,800 word story about Wal-Mart’s efforts to locate a store in the Roxbury neighborhood of Dudley Square. The Phoenix revealed that Wal-Mart had hired an “old pal” of Boston Mayor Tom Menino as an advisor, and had donated “fat sums” to local nonprofits — like its $50,000 contribution to the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts — — just as they have done in Chicago and New York City.
The article quoted the City Councilor for Roxbury as stating flatly, “Wal-Mart does not belong in Dudley Station, it does not belong in the Dudley triangle, and it does not belong in Roxbury.” Despite giving $2 million to local charities, Wal-Mart was still taking its lumps from Boston area elected officials. In response to its critics, Wal-Mart’s PR officer trotted out the unusual ‘vocal minority’ defense. “Some of the louder voices in this debate don’t necessarily represent the majority opinion,” the Wal-Mart spokesman said.
In early September, public radio station WBUR in Boston carried an audio clip of Boston Mayor Tom Menino charging that “Wal-Mart is a huge corporation. What they do is they come into a community and all the mom and pop stores disappear eventually, and the money goes to Arkansas. I want the money to stay here with the mom and pop stores, put local people to work.”
In response to the charge that Wal-Mart cannibalizes other businesses, a Wal-Mart spokeSman told WBUR, “I think it’s a nice talking point. Unfortunately there’s not a lot of statistics and facts to support that. What we find more often is the case that the opposite is true — our stores actually serve as magnets for growth and development.” Yet all the New England regional discount chain stores are dead: Ames, Rich’s, Caldor’s, Bradlees. These competitors are all gone — and it wasn’t global warming that killed them.
But Wal-Mart’s ‘economic magnet’ argument is not attracting much support. The idea of a Wal-Mart in Roxbury is being opposed by a group called the “We Want Good Jobs Coalition,” which includes more than a dozen community economic development organizations and local activists groups.
Wal-Mart has not confirmed any particular store locations — other than the Somerville site near Assembly Square. But opponents have vowed to bake this bean as long as it takes. Jean-Claude Sanon, an organizer with Massachusetts Jobs With Justice, told the Boston Phoenix, “Wal-Mart is trying to divide and conquer, and to buy some of our leaders. We know deep down that Wal-Mart wants to come here full-fledged; that’s why we’re putting forward an educational effort — because some people still think this is good news.”
Wal-Mart’s aggressive wooing of Boston has become a hot political issue in the November City Council elections. While some City Council candidates have repeated Wal-Mart’s claims of jobs and savings, candidate Suzanne Lee, who ran at the head of the pack in September’s primary race, told the Herald, “When Wal-Mart comes into a community, they destroy mom-and-pop businesses, and that’s something we cannot afford to have happen in Boston that depends so much on small business.”
To learn more about the We Want Good Jobs Coalition, contact Massachusetts Jobs With Justice at: [email protected]
At this point, you can’t blame the Wal-Mart PR team in Bentonville, Arkansas from feeling a little bit like a bean that’s been baked-Boston style.