For companies like Wal-Mart, silence is golden. If they can silence their opponents, they get the gold. In the township of Marple, Pennsylvania, local officials have placed a gag over free speech, in an attempt to silence the people who don’t want a Wal-Mart.
Marple is located in the heart of Delaware County, Pennsylvania, just southwest of Philadelphia. The county is literally choking with Wal-Marts — a total of 13 Wal-Mart stores lie within 15 miles of Marple. So it’s no mystery why the residents of Marple have begun a Wal-Mart battle to keep the giant retailer from moving into an existing shopping center that sits in the middle of several residential neighborhoods.
On March 14, 2010, Sprawl-Busters reported that homeowners in Marple and neighboring Springfield Township had formed a group called No Marple Wal-Mart to drive their point home. If residents in Marple want to buy cheap Chinese imports, all they have to do is drive 3 miles to the Wal-Mart in Glenolden, or 5 miles to the Wal-Mart in Eddystone. There’s even a Wal-Mart superstore just 14 miles away in Deptford, New Jersey, which itself is crawling with Wal-Marts.
“We have formed a group to notify our township officials that we do not want a Wal-Mart at the Marple Crossroads Shopping Center,” the residents told Sprawl-Busters. “Wal-Mart is political. Those in favor of Wal-Mart talk jobs, tax revenue, convenience, modern shopping, and progressive community. Those opposed to Wal-Mart talk about low-paying jobs, not the best employer/employee relationships, and loss of local businesses.”
The group says “Wal-Mart moves in to dominate, not play fair. What is gained from Wal-Mart in the way of jobs is lost when other businesses go under… No Marple Wal-Mart notes that a Wal-Mart will create “increased pressure on infrastructure (traffic, road improvements, police, fire, sewer – i.e. the gain in tax revenue is elusive because the community has to spend every dime it gets just to keep up with the heart beat of a Wal-Mart.” “Wal-Mart coming to town does not lower everyone else’s taxes,” the group says, “and in fact may ultimately raise your taxes as the community has to grow its infrastructure and then maintain a larger base.”
Finally, homeowners say the proposal will result in the “loss of small town atmosphere,” which you can’t purchase at any price at Wal-Mart — and once its gone — they can’t sell it back at any price. “Any plan by Wal-Mart to dramatically expand its impact on our region represents a major threat to the health and well-being of our entire community, residents, workers, employers and overall economy. Wal-Mart has a history of displacing established and successful local businesses (large and small), of illegal and dangerous treatment of employees, of paying low wages and providing inadequate health benefits (resulting in employee health costs billed to the community and state), of sex discrimination in employment, and of numerous other violations of basic employee rights. The distortion of employment patterns away from local businesses toward lower-paying jobs at Wal-Mart is not an acceptable trade-off for marginally increased commercial property tax revenues.”
This week opponents prepared the following op-ed statement to the local newspaper: “How do you avoid a debate you can’t win? Don’t allow one side to argue their points at all. That appears to be the attitude of the Marple Township commissioners when it comes to the proposed Wal-Mart superstore at Marple Crossings. On August 9th, 3 members of the citizens group ‘nomarplewalmart’ came to the commissioners meeting to each speak for 3 minutes regarding this development. We wanted to raise legitimate concerns regarding traffic, sewer capacity, light, noise, etc. Instead, we were barred from speaking at all, despite the fact that half of one of our yards is located in Marple Township and whose sewer bills come from Marple Township. We have lists of taxpaying Marple residents who are supportive of our cause and who are willing to allow us to speak for them, without the need to pack the meeting with hundreds of people. Now, their voices are also silenced.”
“The commissioners have to realize that legitimate concerns are being raised about this redevelopment that will not go away. Traffic and truck volume will increase, as well as wastewater flow. Marple Crossings has one main entrance and very confusing internal circulation, while other Wal-Mart stores in the county all have 3-4 major entrance points. Several public record requests have been denied or ignored.
“We tried to raise some of these concerns with the Township solicitor privately, only to be told that all the commissioners support Wal-Mart. The building is already under construction. Once they submit an application, all they’ll have to do is put up a sign and turn the lights on. Translation: Sit down and shut up.”
“This stonewalling violates the spirit, if not the letter, of our state’s Sunshine Laws. What does it say about the commissioners that they won’t devote less than 10 minutes to concerns of residents? Wal-Mart has already rejected overtures for a public forum, and now elected officials are quashing the opportunity for debate. This is exactly the kind of behavior that discourages people from participating in local government and gives the appearance of corporate interests being placed above the interests of residents.”
“Wal-Mart and the local elected officials should welcome debate, they should ask for it, if they truly believe this superstore will be so great for the community. Silencing debate doesn’t solve problems or alleviate concern, it merely stokes fears and reinforces the perception of backroom arrangements and shady deals between corporations and politicians. We can only hope that in this case, those fears are unjustified, although they certainly don’t appear unfounded.”
Marple Crossroads is a huge, 450,000-square-foot center on South State Road managed by Blank Aschkenasy Properties. There is currently an Old Navy, Marshalls, DSW Shoes, PetSmart and Five Below at the site. But the location has been weakened by the loss of Circuit City, Linen ‘N Things, and Filene’s Basement — three national chain stores that were squeezed to death by Wal-Mart. The latter is slated to occupy the space formerly used by Filene’s Basement.
This shopping center crosses the border between Marple and Springfield, Pennsylvania. Neighbors have protested the expansion to Springfield Commissioners and Marple Commissioners. “Any successful developer knows that they have to get in bed with the local officials to get what they want,” the No Marple Wal-Mart group notes. “Every site design requirement costs them money… What better way to keep your finger on the pulse of local government than to hire their lawyers to work for Wal-Mart.”
“Marple Township is using the same attorneys as the developer for Wal-Mart… There is a specific reason this site was chosen. If the local officials bend over backwards for Wal-Mart, it gives Wal-Mart a lower cost per square foot than the local guy who is their competitor. This, and buying in bulk for their one giant store, lowers prices to a point where the local guy can not compete.”
The group warns Delaware County residents to “Stop viewing Wal-Mart as thousands of independent stores. It’s one giant store that has thousands of doors. Every time you walk in Wal-Mart, you’re walking into the same store, whether you’re in small town USA or Philadelphia. Its one giant corporation and they have a line item budget for each obstacle they face, including the group we are forming. When a store does poorly in one location, that doesn’t mean they’ll close it. That store is strategically located there to shut down some other business. They’ll intentionally slash prices in that store to drive another store under.”
Readers are urged to support the residents of Marple and Springfield who are fighting to protect the valuation of their homes, and the character of their community, by emailing Dan Leefson, the President of the Board of Marple Commissioners Daniel Leefson at [email protected] with the following message:
“Dear President Leefson, If the taxpayers of Marple or Springfield need cheap Chinese underwear, they have 13 Wal-Mart’s nearby from which to choose. If you allow a huge Wal-Mart superstore to locate in Marple, you will see little or no job growth or revenues. This is because 80% or more of Wal-Mart’s sales come from existing merchants — including the cannibalization of their own existing Wal-Mart stores.”
“A 2003 study by the consultant Retail Forward says that for every one Wal-Mart grocery store that opens, two existing grocery stores will close. Look what happened to Circuit City and Filene’s. Both of those store closures are casualties of Wal-Mart.”
“Marple Crossroads is already a huge mall, which is incompatible with nearby residential homes. Good zoning never results in a win/lose situation. As President, you should consider the needs of your homeowners, not just the rich developers and their corporate customers. There are more than 200 dead Wal-Mart’s today. As the retailer fills in the map of a trade area with more and more stores, some are closed once they served their purpose of draining the lifeblood of other competing stores. Then you are left with a ‘ghost box’ that nobody wants to rent, and Wal-Mart won’t allow a competitor to have. Property becomes blighted, valuations fall, and the windfall you thought was coming to Marple is gone with the wind instead. Listen to your residents, and don’t make them losers to the big multi-national corporation.”
To help support the opponents of Wal-Mart in Marple, email: [email protected] For more information, see their website at: www.nomarplewalmart.com.