How to keep communities thriving when Wal-Marts move in

Regarding your Sept. 1 editorial, "This Labor Day, mulling over Wal-Mart": What mom-and-pop businesses need to do is to examine their current business model and seek changes that offer added value to the customer in areas where Wal-Mart will not compete.

As examples, a clothing store might offer alterations. A butcher might offer custom cuts or specialty meats. These types of services are unlikely to be of interest to a commodity supplier such as Wal-Mart and offer the mom-and-pop store the opportunity to remain in its market, perhaps at higher margins.

As for another impact in the market – Wal-Mart's lower prices – consider that consumers now have extra money to spend in other ways.

Those other ways might include additional family recreation in their community. Thus, the dollars saved on purchases at Wal-Mart may appear elsewhere in the community (meals out, movies, education, etc.) and result in increased business for the suppliers of those goods or services.

Viewed in the context of the above, the entry of a Wal-Mart into a community could result in a large economic positive for that community.
Bill Keel
Pompano Beach, Fla.

The backlash against chain stores too often is represented in the news by groups criticizing individual corporations, rather than organizations and communities working for systemic solutions. So I commend your Sept. 1 editorial on Wal-Mart for pointing out that many cities and towns have launched proactive programs to keep independent businesses and communities thriving in the face of chain proliferation and big-box sprawl.

But these success stories are not disconnected cases; they are part of a movement to keep opportunities alive for entrepreneurs and stop the homogenization of communities.

Main Street programs, independent business alliances, and related initiatives that work to create vital local economies are spreading rapidly to every part of the country. And with good reason.

Communities that maintain a diverse base of locally owned businesses will flourish long after most of today's corporate chains are a distant memory and towns that tied their economy to the big-box store are wondering how to rebuild local prosperity.
Jeff Milchen
Cofounder, the American Independent Business Alliance
Bozeman, Mont.

Your Sept. 1 editorial on Wal-Mart disappoints me. While it's appropriate to speak of the constructive approaches communities are engaging in to deal with the presence of a Wal-Mart, it is irresponsible – and enabling of Wal-Mart's lack of accountability as a corporate citizen – to suggest that change doesn't need to occur within their walls of operation.

It's also unbecoming to discount the value and importance of ongoing union-backed efforts to promote a higher standard of living and treatment for the more than 1 million people already employed by Wal-Mart.

We can thank the labor movement for ensuring some of the most basic rights that we take for granted, such as breaks, health and safety standards, and general standards of wages and benefits. Today, unions are at the forefront of defending all of the workforce by countering the cost-externalizing practices of a corporation that needs to shift from the purpose of profitmaking to being a responsible global citizen.
David Hall
Portland, Ore.

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