Archive Opinion The Orion

Wal-Mart making a monopoly

August 1, 2004

On Oct. 20, a preventable tragedy happened in Stockton. The same fate is destined for Hemet in Southern California. Chico may be next.

Wal-Mart opened a Supercenter.

It’s not your regular economy-sucking chain, but the super-sized version.

Some of you may be wondering, why is this such a tragedy? After all, Wal-Mart gives us rolled-back prices every day and the people smiling at the door (not in the store or at the register), which must mean they’re happy.

Allow me to burst your bubble.

If you stop by the Chico Wal-Mart, you’ll see some of the newly released CDs and DVDs at amazing low-advertised specials. There are even receipts from competitors as proof. By the way, it is against store policy to use some sort of an aid to record the prices at Wal-Mart. Gotta use the ol’ brain for that.

There’s a sharp contrast a few miles down the road. In my hometown of Oroville the prices are low, but not nearly as low, which tends to go against the old formula of more population equals higher prices. Then again, there’s no real competition. But this is the progress Wal-Mart brings, right?

The wonderful rolled-back prices and the even lower wages and benefits (or lack thereof) the employees are given forced many small businesses out of business. The presence of Wal-Mart even made a few who were in good financial shape at the time cut their losses and close their doors. In fact, the only companies of significant size are the 8,000 drug stores in town (because they’re closer to the hospital) and two supermarkets (the niche a Supercenter would absorb). Those wonderful commercials never seem to show the Orovilles of the world.

Speaking of these commercials, they follow a very important rule I have: If a large company is trying to be friendly and personal, be afraid; be very afraid.

First, there’s the commercial with the elderly greeter and the gingerbread man. From what I can see, this is a little old man who has probably had his retirement taken from him by Enron. His job skills are probably not compatible with the rest of the technology in the store, but since he can say hello, he has his doorside job. I’m almost willing to bet my tuition next year that the gingerbread man is a hallucination induced by sitting in front of the cheap televisions in electronics during his breaks watching “Shrek.” But it’s worth the shiny penny he gets every week.

OK, maybe I’m being facetious. They don’t get minimum wage, but $8 to $10 an hour without paid benefits doesn’t scream home ownership or luxury expenses (i.e. food, water, gas, etc).

Speaking of benefits, let’s look at another ad that’s been floating around for a few months with the proud daddy who works for Wal-Mart and had his son’s medical expenses paid by his company insurance. What you don’t see is the employees having to pay for this coverage out of their low wages.

As a result of this wonderful program, University of California, Berkeley estimates Wal-Mart costs California $86 million a year in social programs it encourages its employees to use in place of actual insurance (by the way, Prop. 72 could help change this).

The planned Supercenter is going to be plopped on the family-owned-and-operated Sunset Hills Golf Course on the Esplanade. In order to create a community-oriented environment, I suppose they have to squash part of it. Let’s hope downtown Chico won’t drain like Oroville. Or maybe this can be stopped.