Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Wal-Mart, How Do I Hate Thee?

...let me count the ways.
-Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Wal-Mart sucks. No other way to put it. I read a BBC report this morning about Wal-Mart and was surprised to see it was the usual "Wal-Mart is good- no Wal-Mart is bad" overview of the company. It makes sure to mention that Wal-Mart did $284 billion in sales last year. A company doing that kind of business must be good, right? Not in my view.

About six years ago a Super Wal-Mart came to the larger town 30 miles to the south of us promising to bring more jobs and money into the community. Now, what Wal-Mart failed to explain (or the city father's ignored as visions of dollar bills danced in their heads) was that the jobs they brought would be minimum wage part-time jobs and that when Wal-Mart uses the word "community" they are talking about their store. Wal-Mart has always kept prices down by paying employees as little as possible and keeping their work week under 30 hours. If you are not a full-time employee at Wal-Mart you are not eligible for company benefits. These low wages affect the customer.

I shop at the Wal-Mart south of me once or twice a month. The only reason I do so is to buy fresher produce than I can get in the small grocery store in our town. Each time I go through the check-out line at Wal-Mart there is a new cashier operating the cash register. After six years I should be seeing the same faces but I don't. People don't work for them very long. How can they and support their families?

The BBC wrote,"...whenever a new store is opened in the US, critics claim small businesses and local jobs are lost." This is true. Since the Wal-Mart was built two grocery stores, two department stores, and a shoe store have gone out of business in the town.

Wal-Mart advertises itself as a place with bargain prices. This may have been true at one point but no longer. Over the last six years I have watched as the quality of the products Wal-Mart carries drop lower and lower along with their prices. The towels they sell are thinner, the wall paints are now some brand I have never heard of, and the tools are made of cheaper metal. There are quality name-brand products but the prices are not any less than any other big box store. Cheap products at a cheap price is not a bargain.

I shop at Wal-Mart because (figuratively speaking) they are now the only store in town. I make sure to buy as little as possible and to take advantage of every trip to Denver by stocking up at Kings or Safeway before I head home.

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