Sprawl-Busters noted this week the abrupt withdrawal of Wal-Mart from the city of Helotes, Texas, which is now led by elected officials who ran last May as a ‘Take Back Helotes” slate against big box sprawl. Seeing the writing on the WAL, the giant retailer pulled out of Helotes, writing a letter to the “Citizens of Helotes.” But symbolic of how Wal-Mart deals with real people, the retailer did not even write its own letter, but used a public relation/advertising firm to write the letter. The “citizens” letter announcing Wal-Mart’s plan was actually signed by Steven Schauer, an Account Executive from KGBTexas, a PR firm based in San Antonio. In the letter, Schauer insists that “Helotes would have benefited from significant tax revenues and local jobs,” and says that Wal-Mart “met and/or exceeded all of the development and environmental requirements of the city, county and state.” Schauer then wrote, “Wal-Mart is today announcing that this location is no longer being considered… Though vocal opposition was present, many in the community expressed support for the project. However, recent actions indicated that achieving a cooperative project was no longer possible.” And then, just to make sure this withdrawal was not seen as a weak move, Schauer made a veiled threat: “Although Wal-Mart is confident that these actions could have been remedied in court, Wal-Mart is unwilling to force the City of Helotes into expensive litigation relative to this site.” To show that the door is never closed, Schauer adds, “We will continue to evaluate all emerging opportunities to provide our quality goods, services, jobs and philanthropic support to our communities, while saving our customers thousands of dollars and improving their standard of living each year.”
Thank you, Wal-Mart, for sparing Helotes from your wrath! Is this the harbinger of a new Wal-Mart policy: to renounce “expensive litigation” when they lose a battle? We certainly hope that Wal-Mart will continue to use Mr. Schauer’s firm, KGBTexas to write its letters, because we like this new policy of not forcing cities and towns into wasteful litigation. But was Wal-Mart, with more than 1.2 million workers in the U.S. plus an army of public relations experts gathered in a War Room in Bentonville, totally unable to write its own letter to the citizens of Helotes? And what does the company make of the fact that the “Take Back Helotes” slate of candidates were elected last May on an anti-Wal-Mart slate, and survived a challenge to the voters outcome? I guess the “vocal opposition” has become too vocal in Helotes, and all the company left behind was a PR guy and a pathetic letter to the Citizens of Helotes. Wal-Mart, with all its wealth and power, could not speak directly to the citizens they wanted so badly to serve. They had to hire a PR firm to write their goodbye.