Wal-Mart’s impact on local businesses is like a sudden violent storm. It hits — but then quickly passes on. Just ask the folks in Hurricane, Utah. Wal-Mart supercenter #4578, located in Hurricane, near the Zion National Park, is now open for business as of March 18th. Hurricane Mayor Tom Hirschi, told The Spectrum newspaper that the new superstore is going to a revenue gold mine for the city. “The tax revenue is going to be badly needed and appreciated. It is a great addition to our city.” The newspaper repeated the fallacy that 300 jobs would be ‘created’ by the superstore, and the Mayor gushed that it was “going to be a big boost for our economy.” “In these tough economic times, everybody is downsizing, but Wal-Mart is expanding,” Wal-Mart’s store manager boasted. “Wal-Mart is a solid established company, it is going to be here for the long run.” The store opening attracted the Lt. Governor of Utah, Gary Herbert, who said the Hurricane superstore was “emblematic of the growth that is going on down here. It means Hurricane has arrived.” But Wal-Mart’s arrival will precipitate the departure of other merchants in this small community. The Spectrum interviewed the owner of Farmer’s Market, a locally owned grocery, who said he knows the superstore will cost him lost sales. “I know they will take some of my business. That is guaranteed. Times are tight, so it is going to make things tighter.” Even Mayor Hirschi paused for a minute in his celebrating to remember his existing merchants. “For a while,” the Mayor said, “it will hit some of them.” The manager of Lin’s Marketplace, another competitor in Hurricane, also was honest about what the new superstore would mean. “We will probably feel a lull in business for a few weeks,” the manager admitted. “Everybody (in retail) in the Hurricane Valley will feel a pinch for a little while.” The Lt. Governor was very philosophical about the whole business. “Capitalism is capitalism,” he rationalized, “the small business can compete. They will thrive with the competition.” The manager at Lin’s must have read the aphorism that Wal-Mart is like the plague: it makes everyone sick, and kills off the weak. “You can either be scared and run,” he said, “or you can embrace the competition and step up your game. Wal-Mart either makes you stronger or it takes you out of the picture.” Lin’s Marketplace, like many now-defunct merchants, pins its survival on superior customer service. “What we try to emphasize is our relationships with our guests. What is going to make us successful is the relationship side of our business. We are here to stay.” The owner of Farmer’s Market repeated another comforting myth: “We live here and we work here. That is the plus we have.” Sprawl-Busters gives these two merchants 24 months before they both are gone.
If getting a Wal-Mart means Hurricane has arrived, as the Lt. Governor claims, where has it arrived? Granted, Hurricane is a small town, with less than 13,000 people as of 2007. But in 1990, the community had less than 4,000 people. Wal-Mart signifies to city officials that the community now has a rightful spot on the economic map, because they have a superstore that will clean up market share from other merchants. This is progress. Helping national chain stores transfer sales from smaller merchants is moving up on the food chain, the retail equivalent of having Elvis do a concert in your town. Ironically, another Hurricane Wal-Mart was also in the news this week. The city of Hurricane, West Virginia, population 6,154, also has a Wal-Mart. But that store is embroiled in a subcontractor’s lawsuit against Wal-Mart and its construction company. A West Virginia company called Blacktop Industries is suing Wal-Mart for not paying them $595,012 for paving its parking lot. Wal-Mart is asking the Circuit Court in Wayne County to dismiss the case, because they claim the litigation was filed in the wrong county. The retailer also wants the case moved to federal court, because Blacktop is a West Virginia company, Wal-Mart is a Delaware corporation, and the construction company is from Ohio. Rather than pay their bill, Wal-Mart is dragging the asphalt company for a long ride through the courts. Readers are urged to email Hurrican, Utah Mayor Tom Hirschi at [email protected] with the following message: “Dear Mayor Hirschi, You are a small businessman, the owner of Tom’s Clip Joint, a barbershop in Hurricane. You know what it must feel like for a small merchant to get clipped by a giant national chain. You said recently that the new Wal-Mart will ‘hit’ some of your local businesses for a while. I’m afraid it’s going to be more than a hit, more than a ‘pinch’ as one merchant said. Think Circuit City if you want to visualize the damage that can be done. I don’t believe that Lin’s Marketplace or the Farmer’s Market are going to be around 2 years from now. What may look like the beginning of competition, is actually the end of competition in your small city. The Wal-Mart is going to spin your small merchants like they were hit by a retail hurricane. Unfortunately, city government will take the blame for putting no limit on the size or location of superstores. You will see increased traffic, with increased crime, and you will also see more empty storefronts and shuttered businesses. Wal-Mart is not a form of economic development — it’s a form of economic displacement instead. To prevent your small town from being overrun by national chains and formula restaurants, Hurricane should put a cap of 50,000 s.f. on the size of retail stores, before the rest of the retail hurricane hits your city. You tell people that as Mayor you want to project the image of Hurricane as a community with ‘businesses that will offer good wages for all who work and live here.’ I think you just destroyed that image big-time.”