Gargantuan discount retailer Wal-Mart opened its first urban store in the Twin Cities today on University Ave. in the Midway area, just minutes from my house (local coverage: Pioneer Press; Star Trib). The store went in where a K-Mart closed last year.
The reaction has been mixed, with some saying the retailer’s presence will help bolster retail in general in the Midway and provide needed jobs, while others claim Wal-Mart will drive small retailers out of business and provide dead-end, low paying jobs. UFCW representatives were outside picketing Wal-Mart today, adding to the frenzy of bargain shoppers.
While the Midway certainly doesn’t need more empty stores and abandonded buildings, and the 325 jobs will be a big boost (5,000 people applied for those jobs), I’m not so sure how I feel about the long-term effect of 325 Midway citizens having low-paying jobs. No matter your opinion of unions, they do tend to pay significantly better.
Yesterday I received a flyer in the mail announcing the store’s grand opening, featuring pictures of impecably clean aisles. I’ll have to see that for myself. Frankly, it all reminds me of Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed.
UPDATE: (Thursday, May 21, 2004)
The UFCW held a rally outside Wal-Mart last night, drawing as many as 300 protestors. Local coverage was weak (Star Trib), though a union backed outlet did cover the rally and provide pictures. The UFCW president answers questions in the Detroit Free Press about Wal-Mart and the current state of unions.
I’m especially curious to see if any Twin Cities bloggers (like me) are covering or talking about this. A quick Google search didn’t turn up much, other than a text-heavy, anti-Wal-Mart boycott site with tons of links. I’d love to see some photoblogs covering the event.
A study released earlier this year by California Representative George Miller (“Everyday Low Wages: The Hidden Price We All Pay for Wal-Mart” PDF) claims the average Wal-Mart store costs taxpayers $420,750 per year in public assistance thanks to the store’s low wages and benefits. Of course I haven’t read the entire 25-page report — that stat comes from the press release and was repeated in the Star Trib article mentioned above (of course the Star Trib averaged that amount across the average store’s 200 employees for a cost $2,100/year). I haven’t seen any context in the report to compare these findings to other employers, but it sounds pretty brutal compared to the UFCW’s average wage of $13 an hour in the Twin Cities.