It’s not an obscenity, it’s a fact

Letter by John Rokosz

Commerce – August 1998 – Colorado Central Magazine

It’s not an obscenity, it’s a matter of fact

Editors:

Wal-Mart Sucks!

This is not an obscenity or a slur, it is a fact. Wal-Mart does, indeed, suck. Like an enormous economic vacuum cleaner, it sucks the labor pool dry, it sucks traffic from other shopping areas, and sucks dollars from the local economy.

Lots of folks seem to think bigger is better, and that there is nothing better for a town than the presence of the world’s largest retailer. There is, however, another side to the story. The presence of a superstore in Salida has already produced noticeable changes in the local economy. Recruiting has always been a problem for local businesses, but since last fall’s opening, seasonal employers have had increased difficulty in filling their rosters.

The most notable factor is Wal-Mart’s ability to draw consumer traffic. The ultimate insult is Wal-Mart’s own road atlas, with all the store locations conveniently marked. This allows a traveler to travel coast to coast without ever having to suffer the inconvenience of stopping at a friendly, local Mom & Pop store.

Wal-Mart’s familiar facade and the well-established illusion of “lower prices” consistently attract Chaffee County’s valuable visitor traffic. Since the opening of the superstore, some merchants have lost over 50% of their sales of competing products, even though there may be little or no price difference. Downtown merchants, even those dealing in non-competing products, report reduced traffic.

There is more to competition than just product against product. Local merchants may hustle to take on new lines of non-competing products, but big stores compete for the shopper’s dollars as well. In the tourism-based economy of Chaffee County, there is a finite amount of visitor dollars to be spent. Look at the dozen or more RVs waiting for Wal-Mart to open on a weekend morning and guess who’s getting those dollars.

And where do those dollars go? Unlike the profits of local entrepreneurs that are spent locally to buy life’s essentials, Wal-mart’s profits go to stockholders around the world who reap profit with no effort at the expense of the local businessman. Other than employees’ paychecks, very little returns to the local economy. Wal-Mart advertising is conspicuously scarce in the local media, and the Salida superstore was built by a company from Pueblo.

It’s been said that a dollar spent locally recirculates seven times. Maybe sometimes we have to buy at Wal-Mart, but when you have a choice, remember that most of that dollar you lay on Wal-Mart’s counter is leaving Salida forever. Just listen for that sucking sound.

John Rokosz

Salida