There comes a time in every sleepy suburban town's life when it must go head-to-head with the Wal-Mart empire. There is the initial outcry — the sidewalk picketers, the angry speeches at City Council meetings — and, too often, the inevitable defeat.
(Followed by a sheepish midnight trip to pick up a jumbo pack of unbeatably cheap toilet paper. Don't deny it.)
In the case of Burbank, a growing “No Wall Mart” Facebook campaign in response to the monster chain's purchase of the 12-acre Great Indoors facility in the Empire Center is a little puzzling:
Target, Best Buy, Lowe's and Costco all run major rectangles on the same patch of concrete. But members of the Facebook mob describe their hometown as “small, friendly and clean,” and argue that a Walmart would be the straw that breaks small-business owners' banks:
“Costco hurt us small businesses bad enough,” posts Cathy Caldarell-Whitaker, listed as a local florist. “Bring in Walmart and kiss us independents goodbye.”
In a poll on the page, 54 of 69 voters answered “Hell no” to the question: “Do you want a Wal Mart in Burbank, CA?” And Eric Ahlroth of nearby Tujunga writes:
“I have a friend with a small store on Magnolia in Burbank and he tells me that this Walmart will probably spell the end of his business. It's not David vs. Goliath, it's more like an ant versus an atomic power plant. I wouldn't exactly call it fair competition. Here in Tujunga we fought off a Home Depot we didn't want but the fight was long and gruesome.”
Indeed — the townspeople will have to majorly transcend their Internet pep talk for even the slightest chance of elbowing out the kingpin of consumer culture. As Ventura and El Monte residents can attest, even a long, gruesome legal fight is unlikely to turn in favor of the ants.
“There have been a lot of fights that have not been successful, and a few that have been,” says Danny Feingold, communications director for L.A. Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE).
In 2004, Wal-Mart Inc. was dealt a major blow after it announced plans to build 60 superstores throughout California. Lean, green activists in both NorCal and SoCal fought tooth and nail to bar out the chain, often via city zoning regulations.
Among the biggest victors of that movement were the voters of Inglewood, who defeated a big-money-backed referendum that would have allowed Wal-Mart to open a 60-acre retail village in their hood.
But now, using sneaky strategies like “smaller stores and different formats” to get past “size-based regulations,” Feingold explains that “Wal-Mart is making a really strong push after getting its comeuppance a few years ago.”
The five members of the Walton family who own the mega-corporation sit in spots six through 10 on the Forbes' list of the richest Americans. They are each worth about $15 billion.
When the Waltons (or, rather, their real-estate minions) purchase a plot of land, they don't always open a supercenter: The Burbank property might also be rented to a bunch of smaller retailers, as the company is currently choosing to do in tinier, quirkier Malibu.
Either way, Burbank city government is playing helpless to the deal. Via the Burbank Leader:
Burbank officials say they have little to no control over the potential move. …
Walmart would simply need to pull a few permits for a project to proceed, [Joy Forbes, Burbank deputy city manager] added. … “They could use the whole site or break out the site with different tenant spaces,” Forbes said. “We have no idea.”
However, LAANE spokesman Feingold says that “city leaders can do a lot. But they have to have the political will to do it, and they have to have the pressure of their constituents.”
That's where Burbankians come in. “SOMEONE NEEDS TO ORGANIZE A HUGE PROTEST!!!” writes Michael Mushammel on the “No Wal Mart” page.
Right. But before y'all go ramming giant tree trunks through castle doors, here's the LAANE handbook (beware of giant PDF — but so worth it!) on “how communities can hold Walmart accountable,” and a video about how Inglewood pushed the conglomerate out for good:
One more reason to join the fight: Wal-Mart is notoriously anti-union, known for lowering labor standards in the towns it conquers. (Whereas Costco, which is already located in Burbank's Empire Center, “is considered to be a high-road employer” with compensation packages almost double those of Wal-Mart, says Feingold.)
Is the blight on local economy worth a jumbo pack of unbeatably cheap toilet paper at midnight? Let us know, below.