If you ever wonder why the attitude at Wal-Mart seems so cold, perhaps it’s because the company always leaves the door open. In Texas, for example, the headline in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on March 8th says WAL-MART PUTS SUPERSTORE ON ICE, but the company always qualifies such withdrawals. “We kind of wanted to step back,” said one Wal-Mart official. “It’s still a good location, and we’re still looking at options to locate in the area…Moving the supercenter to that location is still an option.” The door is still open, but local residents vow they will shut it tight. More than 400 people showed up this week at a city meeting with Wal-Mart, and presented a 1,600 signature petition against Wal-Mart to company officials. Residents were somewhat surprised by Wal-Mart’s “withdrawal”, but did not let their guard down. “But I think for the first time the Wal-Mart people got a sense of how deep the anger and opposition is for this project,” said Joe Yates, head of the Park Glen Neighborhood Association. Wal-Mart stirred up deep resentment by proposing a 204,000 s.f. supercenter plus seven other businesses on a 30 acre parcel near a high school and a planned elementary school. Wal-Mart says it doesn’t need city approval for most of its project, but if it wants to include a lube and tire center and have outdoor storage, it needs a zone change. So the company could come back in with an altered plan. But in the meantime, the city is considering limiting the size of stores to 100,000 s.f. in areas near neighborhoods. Wal-Mart’s representative told reporters she would tell her bosses in Arkansas about the ‘strong feelings that Fort Worth residents had about the planned supercenter’. “We have sought and responded to feedback from the neighborhood,” said the Wal-Mart official. “Certainly our actions show that we are willing to respond to feedback. We appreciate the individuals that provide us with good solid information that we can work with.” None of this fooled any of the opponents. “We are still gathering signatures,” one neighbor said. “We want them to know we are serious.”
Wal-Mart listens to what local residents say, they just don’t hear any of it. When Wal-Mart says it wants “good solid information”, that does not include petitions from citizens, it does not even include votes taken by city officials. Wal-Mart has even put themselves on the ballot after a city rejects them. This is a far cry from the words of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton who bragged that his company would not go in and create a fuss in a town that — for whatever reason — did not want Wal-Mart to locate there. When residents bring in petitions, Wal-Mart counters with its own petitions (see next story about Morgantown). Wal-Mart’s actions in aggressively trying to bulldoze neighbors indicates that the company is unwilling to respond to feedback. For now, in north Fort Worth, Wal-Mart is on ice, or more accurately, on the rocks. But the city of Fort Worth needs to put more controls in place, because dropping a lube and tire center from their plans is not a deal-breaker for Wal-Mart.