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A Half-Century of Walmart. Economic Savior or Evil Empire?

In Business, Economy, Entertainment, Jobs, Local News, National News, Opinion, Politics, Senior Lifestyle, sociology, Uncategorized on July 2, 2012 at 10:25 pm

Singer, songwriter Jessica Frech’s satirical music video, “People of Walmart” has attracted more than 6 million viewers, and probably offended just as many. (Jessica is in the upper left square of this screen shot from her video.)

By Gery L. Deer

Deer In Headlines

Most people don’t realize that Walmart is the world’s largest private employer. According to a recent article in Time magazine’s business section, only the U.S. Department of Defense andChina’s People’s Liberation Army employ more people than Sam Walton’s massive dynasty of discount. On July 2, Walmart turned the half-century mark of rolling back prices and shaking up the competition.

On that date in 1962, Sam opened the very first Walmart store inRogers,Arkansas. Fifty years and four-thousand, three-hundred-ninety-nine stores later, the chain employs more than 2.1 million people and sets the standard by which other budget retailers are measured.

Along with those who appreciate Walmart’s contributions toAmerica’s economy, there are equally as many who regard it as an evil, impersonal, corporate monster. And they may be correct, after all, it would have been impossible to become the discount retail leader without doing some damage to the competition and holding fast to as much of its own money as possible along the way to get there.

Impenetrable by unions and continually slammed by the liberal left, the bargain behemoth continues to rake in the cash, bringing in a whopping $443 billion last year. Revenue like that must please the company’s shareholders, who, ironically, are probably the last people to set foot in one of its stores (at least while someone’s looking).

But what is Walmart, really? Is it evil? Or, is this just the price that has to be paid for corporate efficiency and unprecedented business growth? Do small towns really dry up and blow away when Walmart moves in?

The pros and cons of Walmart are probably more a matter of perspective than fact. Walmart shoppers are hard to categorize, but the common image is the middle to lower class, interested in getting the lowest price possible on toilet paper while caring nothing about the environment in which it is sold to them.

Well if you believe singer, songwriter Jessica Frech’s point of view in her satirical YouTube music video, People of Walmart, shoppers simply cannot be categorized. They come in every shape, size, color and creed, from every socioeconomic background and lifestyle. They come at every hour of the day and night in search of, well, a great deal on whatever it is they need.

It’s worth mentioning also that many Wallyworlders found Jessica’s music video terrifically offensive because it uses actual photos of Walmart shoppers in their native habitat. Even so, People of Walmart has been watched by more than 6.1 million viewers. People of Walmart 2, released last November, already has more than 1.6 million views. Apparently people weren’t that offended.

The economic effects by Walmart on local communities are as mixed as its clientele, probably more so than people generally know. According to a 2009 study, most negatively affected by the big box giant are those mom-and-pop retailers selling products in direct competition, such as small, higher-priced grocery, clothing and dry-goods stores.

The research also indicated that retailers offering products and services not available from Walmart tend to do better if in close proximity because people are already prepared to spend the money.

As for Walmart’s overall effect on and property values, new research released by the National Bureau of Economic Research startled the company’s critics. A 2001-2006 study of 159 new Walmart stores found that homes within a half-mile of each actually increased in value as much as 3-percent. Local tax revenue also increases substantially.

Like it or not, Walmart is here to stay. Anytime a business or an individual is successful, they will always have critics and even enemies. Fifty years ago, it’s doubtful that Sam Walton could have imagined what his small shop would eventually become.

Today his company provides jobs, affordable food and clothing, and the most unusually diverse array of patrons any retailer could imagine. So, happy birthday Walmart! Keep the rollbacks coming and, please, could someone fix the wheel on that one shopping cart that just won’t roll when you’re in a hurry?

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