Wal-Mart has no qualms about pulling up local businesses by the roots. In the city of San Gabriel, Wal-Mart wants to plough under a 75 year old unique garden and nursey center that has become a landmark in this community. City officials want to relace the San Gabriel Nursery and Florist, a unique garden center, with a 135,000 s.f. Wal-Mart store. Several houses and an apartment building would also come down to make room for Wal-Mart, a 60,000 s.f. electronics store, and several fast food restaurants. The nursery, which grows many of its own creations, had been located along San Gabriel boulevard since the end of world war II. It’s original founders, Japanese immigrants, were interned by the U.S. government during World War II. After the war, they grew the business again to one of the top 25 businesses in San Gabriel, employing more than 80 workers. “A lot of independent (nurseries) have gone out of business trying to compete with the Home Depot,” explains Mary Swanton, grandaughter of the garden center owners. “Our niche is that people can find plants that they can’t find anywhere else.” The nursery sells hundreds of varieties or roses, one of a kind azaleas, and unique bonsai trees. Wal-Mart, on the other hand, sells Mickey Mouse lawn ornaments and other highly prized items. Somehow city officials see replacing this unusually successful business with a Wal-Mart as an economic development strategy. It’s an ironic path to success: kill off a flowering business, and replace it with a company that captures a substantial amount of its sales from existing businesses. If a huge, windowless dead piece of architecture is described as the first step in the “make over” of San Gabriel Boulevard, citizens better hold onto their seats. More than 4,000 people have signed petitions against Wal-Mart, even as the city begins considering taking the nursery by eminent domain. Officials are so thirsty to plant a Wal-Mart in their soil, that they’re considering a kicking back as much as half of the sales tax revenue to the developer over a 12 year period. Corporate welfare at taxpayer’s expense. The world’s largest retailer, with $118 billion in sales being offered a tax break in San Gabriel. Despite the wishes of many citizens that the Wal-Mart project will just wilt away, local officials continue to quest to mow down the nursery.
Call San Gabriel City Hall (it’s in the book) and ask to speak with John Ornelas, the city’s deputy city manager. Tell Mr. Ornelas that it’s important to be able to distinguish a rare flower from a weed. Tell him to read the entry below about Wal-Mart’s 10 million square feet of empty stores. Ask him if he thinks Wal-Mart will be around for 75 years in San Gabriel, like the nursery the city wants to destroy. It’s time to really “smell the roses” San Gabriel.