Carson City doesn’t need Wal-Mart
April 11, 2003
Driving past that empty old Wal-Mart building the other day, I saw a man playing with two Siberian huskies in the parking lot, while another man took pictures.
It seemed an odd place for a photo shoot, much less a site for walking dogs. Yet the starkness of this expanse of asphalt against the backdrop of this abandoned store said something about our city.
The economic future of our fair city is in peril, or so say the folks at City Hall.
Wal-Mart picked up stakes and moved across the county line, taking a big chunk of sales tax revenue with it. The panic this caused among city officials had them contemplating the destruction of a public park in order to attract another big-box retailer back to town.
Yet, as that scene of the dogs so clearly illustrated to me, our problems aren’t necessarily the lack of giant stores, but perhaps the presence of them in the first place.
The entry of a Wal-Mart or similar store into any region often spells the demise of the small businesses that are the backbone of any community.
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Almost every town in this country started with some mom-and-pop store that serviced the residents who settled there. Other small shops followed as more people came.
These businesses were the basis of the middle class. The profits of these enterprises stayed in the community. The owners spent their money in the stores, built houses for their families and employed their neighbors. The children of these small capitalists then built upon their parents’ successes, taking over the family businesses or starting their own.
But that isn’t how the world of big retail works. These stores sell products made by Third-World people for slave wages, and the profits they make are taken out of the community. Those who work at places like Wal-Mart do so for low wages, and they are very lucky if they can get health insurance. Wal-Mart in particular is extremely hostile to unions, so the chances of their workers ever getting a bigger share of the profits and becoming part of the middle class are nearly nonexistent.
The big corporations receive favorable treatment by governments. They can take advantage of tax loopholes unavailable to small businesses, and even move their corporate headquarters to the Bahamas to avoid taxes altogether. They lobby Congress for favorable regulations and fatten up on government contracts.
If George W. Bush gets his way, these corporations will get another big windfall in the form of the abolition of taxes on stock dividends. But what else can you expect out of an administration run by former corporate CEOs?
If Carson City really wants to better the economic lot of its citizens, it needs to look beyond the seductive lure of big-box retailers and the sales taxes they bring in. Instead, perhaps the city officials should look to create a haven for small businesses, offering incentives to help people open stores and manufacturing firms, restaurants and gas stations.
These are the kinds of businesses that create strong communities, and don’t move across county lines, leaving empty parking lots where only dogs play.
Kirk Caraway is editor of the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza and a Carson City resident.