Much ink has been spilled over Wal-Mart, particularly ink related to the benefits and drawbacks of its impact not only on local communities and their economies, but also on the broader economy. Nevertheless, I found interesting a recent Wall Street Journal story about how the economic downturn has turned former Wal-Mart opponents into advocates.
As the story notes, Wal-Mart has been in a long battle to expand into Chicago–extending at least as far back as 2004, when, as the Wall Street Journal put it, the city “rebuffed its efforts.” Apparently its expansion efforts met with a wall of resistance from those concerned about Wal-Mart’s wages, benefits, and its potential impact on local businesses. Recently, this wall has begun to crumble. Wal-Mart itself has tried to turn the tide, producing studies reflecting its positive impact on communities, workers and families. However, it has been the economy that appears to have made the difference in attitudes. The recession has “softened skepticism” of those who opposed Wal-Mart’s expansion efforts as recently as last year, or at the very least that skepticism has been outweighed by “the need for jobs and tax dollars.” As a Wal-Mart manager notes, the economy has given both customers and community members a “renewed appreciation for the Wal-Mart brand.” That sentiment is clearly understandable, especially given the unemployment rate in Chicago and other cities.
To be sure, while some do seem to have a renewed or better appreciation for Wal-Mart, others give their support reluctantly.
Despite this reluctance, and the opposition Wal-Mart still faces in this area, the company has been looking to enter cities like Chicago. This is because Wal-Mart “has begun saturating suburbs.” Hence, Wal-Mart “sees Chicago as a potential testing ground for approaches it could use in other big cities.” Thus, whether one has positive or negative feelings about Wal-Mart, as the Wall Street Journal points out, the push into cities like Chicago is an important one.