Sometimes two seemingly-unrelated events happen in such close proximity, that even the casual observer can’t help but notice the connection. On November 10, 2004, Sprawl-Busters reported that the Mayor of the Village of Albion, New York was trying to save his community from the town of Albion’s Wal-Mart proposal. Village Mayor Ed Salvatore told officials from the town of the same name, that a Wal-Mart outside the Albion village center would be a disaster for his residents. “I believe it will be the demise of our community,” the Mayor pleaded. “The village of Albion will never survive that.” The Mayor said a proposed 155,000 s.f. Wal-Mart supercenter, which needed a rezoning from residential to commercial, would force many stores in the village central business district to close. The former head of the Orleans County Chamber of Commerce told town officials that a department store was needed, but not a supercenter. Nearly two years later, the Wal-Mart supercenter opened in Albion on June 14th, and from press accounts in the Batavia Daily News, no one remembers the acrimonious debate this project caused. Wal-Mart passed out a few small checks to the local folks, and made the natives very happy. The head of the local hospital, who got a Wal-Mart check for $5,000 was quoted as saying, “This organization may prove to be one of the best things that ever happened to Orleans County.” The newspaper reported that Wal-Mart had hired 390 employees, but said nothing about the workers who lost their jobs at Ames when that retailer closed several years ago due to business lost to Wal-Mart. The only person at the festivities who seemed to connect the dots about Wal-Mart’s impact on the community was George Bower, chair of the Orleans County Legislature. At the Grand Opening, Bower handed Wal-Mart officials a letter for company CEO Lee Scott, asking the retailer to help the county attract a manufacturing company to Orleans. Bower told the Daily News that he is trying to make up for the 200 industrial jobs lost last month in nearby Medina, New York, when the Bernz-O-Matic company, which is a brand owned by Newell/Rubbermaid (another company almost destroyed by Wal-Mart), shut down its Medina plant and threw more than 200 local residents out of work. Bernz-O-Matic makes consumer products like torches and kits. One of their biggest customers is Wal-Mart. Bernz-O-Matic moved its plan to China, ostensibly to be able to produce cheaper torches for Wal-Mart and Home Depot. So Wal-Mart opens its doors with 390 employees (a number which will drop dramatically within months after the store opening) and on the other side of the ledger are the lost jobs at Ames and Bernz-O-Matic. Add to that the fact that the Wal-Mart supercenter has a grocery store, a garden center, an electronics center, a tire and lube express, a vision center, pharmacy, photo lab, and hair salon — all of which already exist in abundance in Albion. All of these stores inside the store will take most of their sales from existing merchants in the greater Albion area. Studies show that the net job change from the opening of Wal-Mart will either be neglible, or in the red. While the celebration was going on, Legislator Bower told Wal-Mart that he would love to see products sold in Wal-Mart that say “Made in Orleans County.” But Bower’s comments were lost somewhere between the Albion Marching Band and Albion firefighter who sang “God Bless the U.S.A. There was “one quiet protester” at the scene: John Kurtz who lives across the street from the new superstore. Kurtz stood in the front row at the Grand Opening wearing a bright red anti Wal-Mart T shirt.
It’s hard to know which is more appalling: the voodoo economics of Wal-Mart’s impact on Albion, and its direct connection with the closure of Bernz-O-Matic and Ames, or the vapid newspaper coverage of this whole issue by the Albion Daily News. How many of the workers at the Medina plant that shut down will shop at Wal-Mart? How many of them will stop by the hardware section and see Bernz-O-Matic products there that they used to make in Medina, now bearing a “Made in China” imprint on it? Will they make the connection? George Bower got the message, and he passed it on to Lee Scott. Wal-Mart is responsible for another company leaving an empty factory in Orleans county. No amount of Wal-Mart clerks and baggers will ever make up for the lost manufacturing jobs that George Bowers wants Lee Scott to replace.