Reasons not to shop at Wal-Mart

Chapel Hill Herald, Saturday July 30, 2005

The prospect of a Wal-Mart in northern Chatham County provides an opportunity to reflect on questions of economics, workers rights and the future of our society. Most importantly, it allows us to contemplate our own ethical responsibilities.

Consider the following: Sexist discrimination is business as usual at Fortune's "most admired corporation." In her book "Selling Women Short," Liza Featherstone documents rampant sexism at Wal-Mart, denial of promotion opportunities to women, underpayment of female employees and the prevalence of exclusive, men-only meetings.

Rather than pay a living wage, Wal-Mart encourages its employees to make ends meet via public assistance programs. Along with their paltry paychecks, Wal-Mart employees receive instruction on how to apply for food stamps, state health insurance for the poor and other welfare programs.

A congressional report found that a 200-employee Wal-Mart costs federal taxpayers $420,000 a year, an average of $2,103 per employee.

It adds up to an annual welfare bill of $2.5 billion for Wal-Mart's 1.2 million U.S. workers. And Wal-Mart places an additional burden on state and local governments. That's money we all pay to subsidize Wal-Mart's low prices.

But Wal-Mart prices are not as "unbeatable" as they claim. Hedrick Smith's Frontline documentary "Is Wal-Mart Good for America?" explains how Wal-Mart uses a handful of deeply discounted "opening price point" items to lure customers into departments where they purchase goods that are often more expensive than at other stores.

In its relentless push to move production overseas, Wal-Mart is driving American workers into poverty. Smith's documentary tells of Circleville, Ohio, where a manufacturer was forced to close up shop because of Wal-Mart's partnership with the Chinese. Now, on the grassy lot next to the empty plant, a Wal-Mart Supercenter is going up, offering poverty wages to workers who previously earned middle-class incomes.

Wal-Mart sides with foreign governments against U.S. producers. Five Rivers Electronics, a Tennessee TV manufacturer, sued the Chinese for unfair trade practices. Wal-Mart sided with the Chinese. "Why would Wal-Mart testify to support jobs in China instead of American jobs?" asks Five Rivers President Thomas Hopson.

The answer given to Frontline by Duke professor Gary Gereffi is straightforward: "Wal-Mart and China are a joint venture." China uses Wal-Mart to break open the U.S. market; Wal-Mart turns to Chinese factories for goods to sell at "unbeatable" low prices.

Wal-Mart flouts state and federal laws that protect labor organizing. There are many reports of Wal-Mart routinely firing workers for union activity. A number of lawsuits have charged Wal-Mart with illegal anti-union activity.

Wal-Mart contributes to our growing health insurance crisis. According to Ralph Nader, the average workweek is only 32 hours, which Wal-Mart considers part time. Part-time workers have to wait two years to qualify for insurance. But with 50 percent turnover per year, few even reach eligibility. Among those, not many are willing to pay a premium that costs one-fifth of the average paycheck.

The happy workers in the Wal-Mart TV ads are actually a bit stressed. According to a recent article in the N.Y. Review of Books, "it is hard for Wal-Mart employees to take pride in their work or to have confidence in themselves. ... With its deliberate understaffing, its obsession about time theft, its management spies and its arbitrary punishments, Wal-Mart is a workplace where management's suspicion can affect the morale of even the best employees, creating a discrepancy between their objective record of high productivity and how they come to regard their performance on the job as a result of their day-to-day dealings with management. This discrepancy helps keep wages and benefits low at Wal-Mart."

Wal-Mart turns a blind eye to suppliers that deny human rights to workers.

According to the National Labor Committee, Wal-Mart suppliers in China, Bangladesh and Central America routinely withhold wages, enforce unpaid overtime, ignore restrictions on working hours and deny employees health care and maternity benefits.

Wal-Mart is worse than other big retailers. In 2004 the NLC found that 90 percent of Bangladesh's 3,780 garment manufacturers violated their female employees' right to three months' maternity leave. Costco, the Gap and Sears (among others) pledged that any woman in Bangladesh sewing their garments must be guaranteed her legal right to maternity leave. Wal-Mart offered no such pledge.

Too much information? Yet the facts above are just the tip of the iceberg. We humans seem designed to exclude information that might conflict with our comforts. Cognitive dissonance is kept at bay with unconscious mechanisms of denial and explained away through a variety of rationalizations.

Thus, Americans continue to blithely shop at Wal-Mart as if the right to buy low-quality products built on the suffering of others was written into the Declaration of Independence. It isn't.

People of conscience don't shop at Wal-Mart. They know the cost is too great.




One of your better posts/columns. But, will people hear you? We learned in the last election that people vote with their identity more than with their brain. I'm afraid in the case of Wal-Mart, people identify with "low-prices" and "Made in America", no matter what evidence there is to the contrary.

Thanks, Robert.

I have available to email to anyone interested a somewhat lengthy article by Daniel Lazare on the anti-slavery movement in 18th century England. It has much to say to Robert's question. This excerpt gives you a sense of that discussion:

On May 22, 1787, nine Quakers and three Anglicans gathered in a London print shop with the express purpose of doing something about the international slave trade. The trade was unspeakably cruel. Yet the average Englishman paid no more mind to their suffering than to that of the poor barnyard animal he consumed for Sunday dinner... following that fateful meeting in London, the scales fell from British eyes with remarkable speed. Within a few short years more than 300,000 people had joined a boycott of slave-grown sugar, and committees to abolish the slave trade were springing up in virtually every town and city, while Parliament was receiving more petitions on that subject than on any other. Slavery suddenly emerged as the hot topic du jour among London's popular debating societies. Within half a decade, the House of Commons had passed its first bill limiting the trade in human chattel, a rate of success that any modern human rights activist would envy.

Lazare goes on to ask:

But are individuals, or broad social forces, responsible for historical change? Are people like the twelve London activists whom Hochschild spotlights "causative," as the sociologists say, or are they bit actors who strut briefly upon the historical stage?

Of course, the problems of slavery were vastly more horrific and palpable than those of Wal-Mart today. But, like Wal-Mart they were largely removed from the sight of the average Briton of that time. The point is that while we may not fully understand how social changes comes about, we do know that it requires that those who care take action. That is the minimal first step.


I don't disagree with anything you've said, but the tone of the article, along with many of the posts made here on OP, is elitist. Orange County has a 14% poverty rate; people who make less than $35,000 are considered low income. Do you really think people who are struggling to pay their rent or buy food should gladly pay higher prices when there's a lower cost option? Wouldn't they be irresponsible to their families if they didn't look for ways to stretch their limited incomes as far as possible?

Let's turn this discussion back to economic development by expecting our local elected officials to make something happen instead of just talking about it. Let's engage the silent workers within each town and the county to identify the types of businesses that meet their needs for low prices and our collective values of responsible management.

Let's pressure our school system to prepare our kids to understand how interrelated economic decisions are. Poor people did vote against their own economic self-interest in the last federal election and they do so when they shop at Walmart. But how many people really understand the relationship between shopping at Walmart and property taxes or Medicaid payments to the state? Economics is not a simple science and in the classroom it doesn't often translate down into shopping decisions or personal finances. But it should; we need it to.

We have an opportunity to turn this into a positive discussion about economic development in each of the towns and the county....if we can avoid turning the discussion into class warfare.

Well, Terri, isn't it elitist to suggest that people of low-income cannot make moral judgments as relates to their purchasing?

But, as to your larger point, I agree with you. Although Gandhi's strategy of breaking British rule depended heavily on the boycott of British goods, he didn't just tell Indians to stop buying British manufactured textiles. He led them in making their own cloth.

To break Wal-Mart we most surely need an alternative. No, I didn't say so in my 800 word column but you can look forward to a follow-up.

Terri, I don't think this debate is about low-income folks who have few options economically. It's about our laziness or our blindness to the real costs that Dan talks about. The point here is that the relatively affluent residents of Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and many in northern Chatham do have choices. Many of us exercise them by shopping at places like Weaver Street Market, and that's exactly how we can support the alternatives we seek.

Now if we could just get Weaver Street to carry underwear and flip flops... ;-)

Hmmm, I don't see many of your neighbors when I go to Weaver Street Ruby. Am I just going at the wrong times?

My point is that if you write an editorial for mass distribution, such as Dan's editorial in the Herald, then its not being read by just relatively affluent residents or Chapel Hill and Carrboro. It's being read by people who do need to save money and who don't feel there are any viable local alternatives. Statement's like 'don't shop there' simply puts them into a dilemma that has no positive alternative. That's the debate going on in my neighborhood listserv. Short-term self-interest (low prices) vs. long-term community interests (responsible businesses).

I think my neighbors are wrong to want a Walmart, but I also think the liberal elite are wrong to say its morally wrong to shop there. I'm advocating for a positive strategy of: 1) recruiting businesses that meet the needs of both groups--reasonable prices and responsible management and 2) pressuring the school system to add economic self-interest to their economics curriculum.

I can tell you that it has become a running joke around my office to run into my family at Whole Foods or Weaver Street (either branch).

My parents and extended family LIVE by Wal-Mart and Sam's Club and they are definitely in the living wage category. For every "smart" choice they make, there is an irresistible, impulse buy that destroys the added value. The disposable society we live in makes everyone believe they can have "new" stuff for the low-low cost of only $9.99.

I strongly agree with your thoughts on teaching Economic Self Interest at a young age. In my high school we all had to take a 1/4 of ... I don't remember what it was called, "real world skills" in which we received a little packet - like a tax file. In it were all the income and expenditures we would need to make for a whole year. We had to write all the checks, keep a balanced register, and other basic finance stuff, the specifics of which I can't remember nearly 20 years later. Perhaps if our children were exposed to such a class and in it we pointed out the loss of income due to shopping at Wal-Mart, we could change the next generation.

There is another alternative to Wal-Mart of course. We could lower our taxes for businesses downtown and attract all kinds of businesses (maybe even a flip-flop and underwear store Ruby...although Great Outdoors sells flip-flops and probably long-johns if that counts). Seems to me we just lost the Carolina because of higher taxes. But, as I remember from the course I mentioned, cutting income means cutting expenditures. So, what comes first?

Part of what we need is more research and better publicity of findings like this:

Myth: Wal-Mart has "always low prices, always."
Fact: The local newspaper in Carroll County, Arkansas conducted a test of Wal-Mart's low price claim. Surveying a list of 19 common household items at six Wal-Mart stores over a one month period, the newspaper staff found that Wal-Mart was cheapest on only two of the items . The lowest register receipt for all 19 items was $12.91. The highest total for all items came from Wal-Mart at $15.86. The Real Story is the high cost of Wal-Mart's prices: lower wages, more imports, lost U.S. jobs, lower community living standards.

An interesting discussion of Wal-Mart blogged here. There was another at dailykos last week but it's not coming up today.

Would lower taxes downtown result in more affordable retail space? I doubt it. When the "market rate" is already so high, why would a landlord lower the rent just because he's paying less in taxes? Unfortunately, state law precludes any direct efforts to control rents, but maybe there could be a combination of penalties and incentives to encourage more affordable rates, or at least to discourage landlords from allowing a building to stand empty.

But are individuals, or broad social forces, responsible for historical change? Are people like the twelve London activists whom Hochschild spotlights “causative,” as the sociologists say, or are they bit actors who strut briefly upon the historical stage?

What an interesting question. I was interviewed (along with a number of other Carrboro residents) by one of the national news networks about the Board of Aldermen's resolution against the Patriot Act (that was before I was elected). The interviewer said: "Who is really going to care what some liberal college town thinks about the Patriot Act?" And I said "Who cared what some liberal college towns thought about Vietnam?"

Seems like sooner or later someone speaking truth to power will be heard. I don't suppose that those 12 people in London knew how to re-organize the England's economy so that it could operate without slavery. That took nothing away from their point about slavery, I am sure.

It's not just Walmart that dabbles in false promises Dan. I've been using the Dollar Store and Roses as much as possible over the last year and was really surprised by how little is available for $1 at the Dollar Store. If you pay attention you can get some deals, but some goods are more expensive at the Dollar Store than at Lowes Grocery. I haven't noticed that Roses jacks up prices on any of the items I purchase there (household items); they've been getting all of my business for the last couple of months. Wish they still had a store at Carrboro Plaza.


First I'd like to thank you for bringing up something that has always annoyed me, the myth that prices are lower at Walmart. In Dallas, one of the local TV stations did an ongoing piece where they asked a shopper out side Walmart and a shopper outside Target for their shopping lists and bought them at both stores. Over the 90 days or so that they did it ( or that I paid attention to it) it was pretty much a draw. Some times one store came out on top, sometimes the other, but they were alway within 5% of each other. I think that a lot of pro- Walmart residents aren't aware that other retailers are very competitive with Walmart.

That said, I do think that we need to have more diverse retail here in Chapelboro. Recent studies point out that Orange county residents travel further to do their shopping than Wake or Durham county residents. That's more traffic, more pollution, and less tax revenue for our towns. We don't need a Walmart, but we do need something.

I'm with Dan on this.

Now before you all start getting too excited, you have to remember that I once voted for the rezoning of the old Brendles' lot so we could keep a Lowes store in Chapel Hill. I had lots of misgivings about that vote, but in the final analysis, it seemed like you ought to be able to have a washing machine in Chapel Hill -- without having to buy it in Durham.

Walmart is different. The company is abusive and exploitive . . . and they routinely misrepresent the truth. Some may say it's elitist to condemn the store for its hateful practices. I say it's just being honest.

Unfortunately, they're very good at what they do -- which is to decimate their competitors. And they'll soon have Chapel Hill all but surrounded with their stores in Hillsborough, No Hope Commons and, perhaps, Chatham County.


I'm with Dan on this.

Now before you all start getting too excited, you have to remember that I once voted for the rezoning of the old Brendles' lot so we could keep a Lowes store in Chapel Hill. I had lots of misgivings about that vote, but in the final analysis, it seemed like you ought to be able to have a washing machine in Chapel Hill -- without having to buy it in Durham.

Walmart is different. The company is abusive and exploitive . . . and they routinely misrepresent the truth. Some may say it's elitist to condemn the store for its hateful practices. I say it's just being honest.

Unfortunately, they're very good at what they do -- which is to decimate their competitors. And they'll soon have Chapel Hill all but surrounded with their stores in Hillsborough, No Hope Commons and, perhaps, Chatham County.


Katrina--That might be part of the reason why Target is on the rise and Walmart is showing signs of weakness, according to a report in May by Charles Schwab. I have no idea if pay is dramatically better at Target. I've never heard much negative stuff about Target, but that might be just because they hire lots of hip designers. Also their customers earn an average 20K more than Walmart's.

Walmart, rather like the Republicans, took over the country while we were sleeping. Like George Bush, they make some of the losers in the US economy feel like they are on the winning team, and throw in an unhealthy (and phony) dose of fundamentalist Christianity, patriotism, patriarchy. Like George Bush, they discourage looking behind the curtain, lest the fantasy be broken and people realize there is nothing there except a wizard picking your pocket.

Short term, we need an alternative to Walmart like the big box cooperative I mentioned on another thread that is being explored in Chicago. Long term, the left, including both middle and working class (and dare I say, even upper class) elements, needs to develop a consumption pattern that is environmentally and economically sustainable and is focused on meeting needs for creativity, companionship, security, health. This could be much more popular than a lecture about the greed, stupidity, callousness of consumers. Unfortunately, this is a project that will need to be developed on the local, regional, national, and even global levels, and is not instantly available.

Dan, it has been one day since I last shopped at Wal-Mart. I'm trying to frame the outing as a sociological adventure, but I'm wondering deep down if I did it because… well… I'm bad…

Seriously, Wal-Mart isn't a joke. It's a bad social trend. Yet, despite my education, there I was yesterday in South Hill, Virginia checking out the new Superstore. (I did want to get a sense of its impact on the town.)

Now, I'm not ready to condemn everything about Wal-Mart yet; though, I do deeply believe that government and citizens need to put the skids on it. (These three sites have given me hope that we are getting somewhere:
This report reviews Wal-Mart's labor practices across the country and ...
While Congress has failed to address the issues posed by Wal-Mart's ascension, ... - Cached)

I'm wondering if you ever read Steve Sherman's link to ‘Building the Bridge to the High Road?' (Unfortunately, I don't remember what thread it was on.) If you did read it, what did you think? I know I'm used to thinking about economic theories in terms of black and white, so I did find this melding of many existing ideologies a little disconcerting; however, what I thought was good about the ‘High Road' was that it is at least an attempt to create a new economic vision that places high value on environmental and economic sustainability, as well as, humane social practices, and it leaves plenty of room for entrepreneurship. The strategy seems better than the alternative--- labeling businesses, unions, social activists, etc. as either good or bad, creating divisiveness, and watching Wal-Mart run amok.

James, we've been having trouble with voles the last couple years.

A Carolina azalea will start out flush with leaves, bursting with blooms and then, one day, you accidentally brush against it and the whole tree tilts over and collapses. Turns out that the voles have gnawed away the core root system and have left just enough thin feeders to keep the tree in apparent health.

Those prolific little buggers lurk underground, scurrying about consuming the taproot that provides the lifeblood of the plant yet incidentally maintain an illusory glow of well-being.

Strange creature. It seems like eating the feeders and saving the taproot would have better overall long term consequences.

Maybe, as have some recent posters suggest, a big-box in a big town makes a small ripple - say a %10 reduction or decimation of local business?

Did the threat of a Sam's Club and Target plus Southpoint push a tottering South Square over the edge of economic viability or did the owners succumb to a self-induced fate?

Is University Mall an aberration or does it payoff to aggressively court and support local business?

There's plenty of evidence spread wide across the Western US that a big-box in a small pond does more than decimate, it devastates.

But are small retail businesses the economic "taproot" of this community anymore? What does it mean when a Pope's disappears? Or a Branch's? Or a Andrew-Riggsbee?

Hey, if the same goods are available, possibly even sold to you by the same displaced worker, at even a lower price, then what's the big deal?

And maybe the Triangle is different. We're not like those isolated communities out west. We're graduating into the Atlanta/Charlotte league.

Isn't Chapel Hill embedded in a large, sprawling, economic ecosystem - a great spreading pond of suburbanism of which Northern Chatham County is just a small example (soon to blister and ooze further with Briar Chapel)?

Maybe this "new" economic ecosystem means the era of going into a local family-owned business, of being recognized as both a person and a customer, of being genuinely and sincerely welcomed is well and deservedly over.

Out with those lumbering dinosaurs, in with those sleek little voles.

Maybe I'll just have to adjust to the profits I generate flowing out of town, of being a credit card number instead of a person, of having to woodenly accept a "greet" by a creepy "living" automaton instead of an heartfelt, authentic welcome.

Or maybe it's time for some vole traps.

At the meeting last Thursday at DryDock, Mitch Renkow
gave a talk about the pros and cons of WalMart. He included
something that I had not thought of, namely that WalMart
doesn't use local services (lawyers, CPAs, etc.) as a local
business does. That started me thinking. Who builds a
WalMart store? Do they employ a local contractor and local
subcontractors? Or do they have nomadic WalMart
construction crews who travel the country building WalMarts?

Mary, as I indicated on the other thread, I did follow Steve's link. I think the work of CLCR provides much food for thought. I also found their article on the cooperative movement of Emilia-Romagna quite interesting.

I can't speak for Wal-Mart, but I was in Myrtle Beach when a Costco went up and the crew doing it was from New Jersey if memory serves me right. That is all they did, travel and put up Costco stores.

Just in from Mark Barroso:

Wal Mart: So now what are we going to do about it?

Tuesday, Aug 16, 7 pm at Dockside Restaurant, Chatham First will hold it's first organizational / strategy meeting. I'll let you know what I've found out, you can do the same and we can figure out where to go from here. This will be a much more free flowing exchange of ideas than the "presentation" type of meeting we had last week.

This is not open to the press, but it's not invitation only. If I've left anyone off this list, it was inadvertent. Tell them to come. If someone could post this to OrangePolitics, that would be very useful.

I'm quickly getting overwhelmed and need help with some of this stuff. Blast, a web hosting service in Pittsboro, has agreed to host our web site for $5 a month. Now that's a good neighbor!

I will try to read email on vacation, if my family allows it, but you may not hear from me for a week.

Mark Barroso

Vole traps. Hmmm. Interesting idea.

But where can you get them? Not at WalMart for sure. They have to be built one grass-root at a time.


And I thought the metaphor couldn't be made any more tortuous!

I'm glad to see Mark B. has started planting the "lawn". I hope to attend the 16th to what's coming next.

An interesting and very relevant article on this subject in today's (if you don't have a subscription, you can watch a brief ad to see the article):

Wal-Mart's P.R. war
Activists against the behemoth think this is their year: Two new national campaigns, a critical upcoming documentary and more stores thwarted. But can they force America's largest private employer to change its ways?

Devra, have you spoken to the folks at the Midway Business Center about starting your retail store? They have helped other folks in similar situations.

Would you believe they're putting one in Mebane, too? Not 15 minutes between the Burlington and Hillsborough supercenters. I about croaked when I found out.

Anyway, my three cents: 1) as a retail worker myself (both my husband and I used to work at WalMart), I understand the argument about where will lower-income families shop? What choices do they have? Since I lost my job earlier in the summer, we have been living off my husband's income which averages $30K/yr after taxes, and we have not gone back to shopping at WalMart (stopped shopping there over 4 years ago.). Now, I don't have children, which would make the issue much trickier, but it is possible to shop locally (not necessarily wholly independently as I frequent Harris Teeter, Target, and Lowe's) on a low to medium income. It requires a shift in thinking of not wanting as much and budgeting to get what you need elsewhere.

2) As a potential retail entrepreneur, I've been trying to secure funding for a clothing store in the Chapel Hill area. Most of the clothing available in this area is very niche (and there's not much to begin with) and every option we have other than WalMart is good. However, since I have been a retail worker, I have no seed money and there are damn few places in this area willing to even talk with me (and I've found none willing to lend me anything) about my plans. Maybe if I was rolling in capital I wouldn't say this but: this area must make it less restrictive, both legally and monetarily, to open new businesses in order to have other shopping options than WalMart. I have no firm suggestions on how to do this but more retail spaces that are smaller to offer reduced rents for start-up stores would be great. The smallest space size at the new Renaissance Center going up at SouthPoint is 1400sq.ft. At $3000 a month in rent, I'd need a mortgage just to get open! The spaces at EastGate and University Mall sit empty (or go to chains) because they are intimidatingly large and expensive for an independent to lease.

3) Speaking of U-Mall, I've worked there in varying capacities for 5 years now. They may be an aberration but they are a welcome one. The shop owners there tend to try to work together for the betterment of the community in addition to the bottom dollar. The management staff -- which also manages Lassiter Mills in Raleigh which is now almost totally populated with independents -- seeks good ideas and strong staff for its properties and is willing to go out on a limb for concepts they think will do well. Witness Deep Dish Theater. Whodothunk a live theater in a mall? Yet it's starting its fifth season and routinely sells out shows.

All this to say is that it is possible to not shop at WalMart and to support a thriving independent/smaller chain retail environment. It just takes an aggressive decision to make it so.

UMall is great--and I do MUCH of my shopping there--BUT:

I can't buy music there. I can't buy DVD's there. I MISS FYE, "evil" chain that they were. Yes, I can go to Schoolkids or CD ALLEY for music. But I'm already AT UMall. One of the nice (GASP) things about a Mall is making ONE TRIP. I still miss RItzi's. I'm holding my breath, waiting for Gamestop to be forced out...



Don't know whether you've explored this avenue or not, but if you're interested in getting a small business off the ground, I recommend you come see James Harris, our Economic Development Director here at the Town of Carrboro. James administers our small business Revolving Loan program.

Among the services we offer are: Entrepreneurship training, assistance in developing a business plan, assistance in finding appropriate space, and (obviously) low-interest Start-Up (and expansion) loans for businesses locating in Carrboro. Just a few of our graduates are:Weaver Street Market, Tylers, Cat's Cradle,
Acme, Chicken Noodle Soup (childrens' clothing), and many others. James' number is 918-7319, and his e-mail is, or if you like, I'll be happy to give you an overview of how it works.


Thanks, yall. I have not approached Carrboro yet but will be calling the Econ. Dev. office today to find out more information on the Loan Fund. I'll admit I was trying to open up in UMall but was not able due to lack of funding.

As to the lack of a music store there, all I know is apparently there was a breach in contract and that is why FYE left. I've long wondered myself why Kane Realty hasn't tried to get a music/movie store in there. I know they've been busy with Lassiter Mills and maybe once that's all open, they'll return to UMall and finish filling it. I also know that Steve Brown likes independents so maybe no one has come to him with a viable store idea yet.


I just assumed they wanted to force out the "teen friendly" stores.

I would LIKE to think I'm wrong...


Yesterday, our regional Transportation Advisory Committee “unanimously supported a proposition submitted by representatives of the towns of Carrboro and Chapel Hill that requested further research into the environmental impact of a possible new retail development along the Chatham/Orange county line.”

This from the Herald Sun today:

“Carrboro Alderman and mayoral candidate Alex Zaffron introduced the proposition. Zaffron told members of the Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Agency, meeting in Durham's city hall, that he understands it is unusual for the agency to be involved in such matters. But Zaffron said he feels the potential new development could threaten the region's ability to meet guidelines set by the long-range transportation plan.
But Mike Cross, a Chatham commissioner who represents his county on the transportation committee, said he believed "the board is getting way ahead of itself."
"On a non-proposed project have we already jumped this far?" Cross asked. "In the process of finding a site for commercial areas, applications for driveway permits are normal. All the traffic impact assessments, air quality issues will be handled in Chatham County."
However, Chapel Hill Councilman Ed Harrison, an alternate on the committee, backed Zaffron's proposal.
"After reviewing the [transportation impact analysis] we have issue with the consistency of the numbers and the deviation with the numbers in the socioeconomic plan," Harrison said.
The proposition asked for the DOT to study population growth in the entire region more fully before granting a permit. While the transportation group does not have any official standing with the DOT, it can make official recommendations, which the DOT can choose to act on. “

Is it likely that DOT will act on this recommendation?

The fact that "all the traffic assessments, air quality issues will be handled in Chatham County" is reason enough for concern, in my opinion (as a Chatham resident who voted for Mike Cross).

As background....the traffic impact analysis contracted for by Lee Moore Oil Co used DOT data on expected growth in the area. When DOT collected this data, Chatham estimated ~6 employees would be coming and going from the Lee Moore site. Preliminary development plans for the site estimate ~700 employees. Based on this inaccuracy, the regional group was asked to not make a ruling on the application until more accurate data was incorporated into the traffic impact analysis.

Shame on Ramey Kemp - they should know that growth in this area is explosive and the DOT growth rates don't take into account all the big developments in Chatham that have been approved the last few years.

We citizens in Chatham know well the gross inaccuracies of Ramey Kemp analyses, as they've worked for several of the big developers here, and have been challenged on this very thing (expected growth) before! They are well known for making poor assumptions, using old and irrevelant data, etc.

I may be wrong on this, and I hope someone will correct me if that is the case, but as I understand it, the DOT estimates are based on EMPLOYEE numbers rather than shoppers. So when the regional engineer told me that the data did include the new developments, he was correct and he was correct that the data was provided by the county Planning Dept. DOT nor Ramey Kemp can be blamed if the county provided inaccurate data. The fact is that the county planning dept. estimated 6 employees for a site zoned for 20 acres of commercial development.

There is much to criticize about the practices of Malwart -- but I never thought it would come to this.

Mr. Driver, 30, was chased into the Wal-Mart parking lot, handcuffed and forced down to the hot pavement for allegedly shoplifting. He died in under 10 minutes once he was in the hands of the Wal-Mart employees.

Driver lived in Cleveland, where his parents own a small business. Driver was a master carpenter with a 2-month-old son and was about halfway through taking flying courses to get his pilot's license.

Employees told investigators Driver had walked out the store with a package of diapers, a pair of sunglasses, a BB gun and a package of BBs.

I'm sure there are two sides to this story ... the truth and the Malwart version. Maybe Chatham County wants help fighting petty crime. Rent-a-Vigilante anyone?

Anyone object to WUNC running Walmart ads? I was shocked to hear one during Morning Edition on Friday.

I do. But then I object to half of what I hear on NPR.


Happy weekend.

Hey, all,

1) Mary, I don't know what NCDOT (division8)'s response is going to be to our request. This is rather uncharted territory, in that the MPO typically has not involved itself in driveway permit applications.

However, we can point out that our staff's investigation indicates that the data submitted for the application does not include the wide divergence in the employment estimates used for planning in that corridor and location, and the anticipated actual figures should the development be approved. Moreover, we find it curious that a driveway permit application (and the numbers submitted) reflect a use and scope that is not permitted under current zoning and land-use plans, and as such, believe that it is premature to issue that permit until Chatham County has made a decision on the land-use issue.

In short, our direct influence on this process is uncertain, but we can certainly keep the process under the limelight, and help augment public scrutiny of the process.

2) Devra,
James told me you stopped in, and got started. Way to go. Best of luck with your project. Sounds really cool.

Oh, and Just a friendly reminder---Tues. Aug. 16, 7pm at Dockside Restaurant (Cole Park Plaza) is Chatham First's organizational meeting on the Wal-Mart issue. Mark B. really appreciates and welcomes the support they've gotten from us over here in Orange, so let's keep it coming. Alas, if I can make it at all, I'll only be able to stick my head in as we have a Board of Aldermen meeting at 7:30.


The latest word from Mark Barosso:

"Hello everyone:
This is a reminder of our meeting tomorrow night (Tuesday, 8/16) at 7 pm, Dockside Restaurant. We have a very full agenda and hope to hear your ideas as well. We are going to focus on strategy and organizational matters - if you've been reading the Chapel Hill Herald there is nothing new to report, although we'll open it up to "what people have heard" and see if there's some new poop out there.
We also have with us a representative from Walmart Watch, a national organization dedicated to challenging Wal Mart to act responsibly to its workers and the community. Reena Desai, a regional organizer, will talk to us about their efforts and how we can support each others' efforts.
I will attempt to balance the need to get a lot done at the meeting with the fountain of ideas that naturally springs forth when you get this many people together that care about their community. In other words, please be patient if I curtail some of the discussions and move on to the next agenda item.
Some issues may not get decided in one night, and we may just have to ponder them until another meeting.
Hopefully, some of you will be inspired to help out more so we can accomplish our goal of keeping Wal Mart out of north Chatham. I need help with many, many things.
In case you missed it, our own Jeffrey Starkweather was on last night on the 24 hour cable news channel (Channel 14) making our case against Wal Mart.
Looking forward to seeing you tomorrow night.

Mark Barroso"

This meeting conflicts with a meeting of the Carrboro Board of Aldermen, unfortunately.

Hey All,

As a side note, I've been working with the producers of "Outfoxed" who are working on a new documentary on the econmic impact of Walmart on small towns.

We'll be screening a preview of it right here in southern Orange county early in November.

Do we have any gifted photographers who could help shoot a couple of late night photos of the Hillsborough Walmart ?

email me if you can help...katrina AT

Can you say more about the documentary? Sounds interesting.

I hope everyone will really consider whether we should be fighting against Walmart at this time. Such a fight might mean that we end up with an equally large development, on a site that isn't meant for it. I'm very torn about whether to attend tomorrow night's meeting. I would feel more comfortable if we were fighting to ensure that whatever gets built on the site is contained to the current 20 acres zoned for business and let Chatham County make the decision about what those businesses should be. Of course, I would be very very sad to see a Walmart there, even a small one. But I would be equally sad to see a 200,000 sq foot Target.


I very clearly remember the question you asked at the first meeting. Are we fighting Walmart or any big box store that wants to develop in Chatham County near the intersection of Smith Level Road and 15-501? I remember because it was the question I wanted to ask.

There is a clear danger in framing the fight as "anti-Walmart". I can't imagine Walmart being so stupid as to try to build a store here in the face of all this negative preemptive hoopla. Frankly, there are too many other profitable places where the people, in their ignorance of the consequences, would love to have a Walmart. I am not underestimating Walmart's arrogance, but neither won't I underestimate its business acumen. They won't come here because the natives just aren't ripe for conquest.

But what if, as you say, a Target or a Lowes or a Home Depot, or some other box store comes in? The anti-Walmart gale winds pushing this protest would lose its early thrust. We detest Walmart because it is symbolic of so much that has gone wrong in this country in terms of workers' rights, the environment, community cohesion, and principled business (and so, so much more). Yet, we cannot forget that Walmart is but the flagship of an Armada sailing to our shores. Take down its leader and it is left...with another leader.

A successful campaign must be framed as anti-big box store, not merely anti-Walmart. Otherwise we might as well pack our picket signs and our good intentions and go home.

read "neither will I underestimate its business acumen."

Glad I'm not alone in my feelings David. If the message we send to the Chatham Planning Board/Commissioners is 'keep it to 20 acres', I will be happy. That wouldn't rule out all big boxes (I think Lowes on 15-501 is around 20 acres), but it would make whatever does go there more compatible with the land (watershed) and keep the traffic to more acceptable levels.


I agree. One should choose one's battles CAREFULLY. What business is it of OURS WHAT store gets put there, so long as it sticks to the 20 acres? If there were adequate time to protest (and two weeks isn't adequate) I'd say we really OUGHT to wait until the owners of that land ask for a variance befroe we get all het up. Unfortunately, 2 weeks isn't enough time.

And we wonder why Chapel Hill/Carrboro has a reputation for anti-business NIMBY-ism? And interfering nosiness? Not to mention paternalism...


Terri, I hope the organizers listen to you, otherwise they may find themselves "boxed" into an irrelevant position. (sorry, I couldn't resist!). Seriously, the two issues it seems appropriate for Orange County residents to address are keeping whatever development occurs on that property to the current zoning of 20 acres for commercial development, AND using accurate projections (both of anticipated employees and potential customer visits) of traffic to determine the overall impact of the development and whether it is appropriate for that overall area and transportation corridor.
I am quite concerned about Chapel Hillians trying to dictate exactly what stores Chatham should allow on this site,(oh you can't have Wal-Mart, but hey Southern Season is OK) but it does seem reasonable to expect Chatham to honor their own zoning in the watershed we all share.



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