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"if they can build a Wal-Mart that’s pedestrian friendly, of an appropriate scale, and well connected with mass transit, then we ought to welcome them."

I'm not so sure. If you watch the documentary or read any of the books that document Wal-Mart's many sins, like predatory pricing policies that drive out local merchants, refusal to pay benefits to many workers (forcing them to rely on public subsidies like Medicaid for health insurance), etc. etc., it's not so clear that we should welcome even a well-planned, transit friendly Wal Mart. Why not develop policies that encourage local merchants paying living wages instead?


"Why not develop policies that encourage local merchants paying living wages instead?"

Excellent point. When we hear small businesses complain about larger businesses we should ask ourselves whether or not they're being good citizens too.

Brian Libby

You guys are right. It's not just about the scale of the stores. They hurt small business communities a lot, too. I don't know why I forgot that. I guess I was just focused on the physical makeup for this post.


I'm not a fan of Wal-mart but I think it's pretty clear that the big box model is NOT broken. They keep getting built, and with not much public opposition - except for Sprawl-mart. Where, for example, was the public outrage over the new IKEA?

I accept that some Wal-mart skeptics are genuinely opposed to Wal-Mart's employment policies. But it seems that the larger segment of the opposition, and the more voluble, hates Wal-mart for its redneck clientele and aesthetic. If they sold modern modular furniture and Swedish meatballs, would we be having this discussion?

Anonymous Questioner

Brian -

Curious to know by what standard you think the big box model is "broken" - is it unprofitable? (then why do such stores keep expanding?) Unpopular? (same question?)

Wal Mart cleared more than $300 billion last year, and made $11 billion in profits. It keeps adding stores by the hundreds every year. If the model were "broken," people wouldn't be shopping there and the stores would be going out of business. But they - and other big box retailers - are NOT going out of business. They're expanding.

Also, does the "broken model" aspect apply to Costco, Target and IKEA? I bet a lot of people who shop at those places disdain Wal-Mart. What's the difference?

This isn't economic criticism, this isn't architectural criticism, this is snobbery.

Brian Libby

Your question is a fair one, but it's not snobbery. In fact, in my original post, I argued that we should hold other stores to the same standard.

I am the first to agree with the last couple posts saying big-box stores aren't broken in terms of money-making and popularity. I'm talking about urbanistically.


I think the hardest part about keeping WM out of Cedar Mill is the fact that zoning doesn’t really provide for denying a business the ability to locate in a given area based on business philosophy of the kind WM represents. The strategy used to keep WM out of CM had to be based on technical considerations such as traffic potentially generated, even though growing numbers of the public despise WM for its well publicized, parasitic business practices.

Knowledge is power. Other companies such as Home Depot, though they may be smaller, are bad in ways similar to WM, but the public isn’t as well informed about them. That’s why the level of resistance to those business hasn’t to date, been equal to that raised against WM.

It also takes tons of unpaid personal time to go up against wealthy corporations. It’s a small miracle WM has been kept out of Cedar Mill so far. Congratulations and thank you to all who’ve worked to accomplish this!


The big box model isn't broken by pure profit standards. It IS broken by moral and public good standards, because it relies on pro-corporate government intervention: public subsidies (in the form of forcing workers onto medicaid and other public assistance as well as the subsidies for sprawl development) and government imposed low wages to Chinese workers who'll be fired or imprisoned for unionizing or organizing for fair wages. The result is huge profits for some stockholders, low prices for consumers, desperation wages for workers, driving out local businesses, and anti-community development patterns. By community standards, that's a broken model, no matter how many mansions the Walton family builds on the backs of its underpaid, overworked employees.

Bronson Graff

I don't think it's fair to include IKEA and Costco in the same discussion as Wal-Mart soley due to the fact that thier methods of business practice are so different.

The only similarity is that they retail thier goods in a warehouse style environment.

What they sell, where they attempt to locate stores, thier margin of profit, and thier employment philosophy, are absolutely NOTHING like Wal-Mart.

Anonymous Questioner

Bronson -

Re: IKEA, tell that to the local furniture stores which will be driven out of business by IKEA's coming to Portland. Or are you saying that furniture sales at other stores won't suffer because people can suddenly buy IKEA stuff?

Wal-Mart's profit margins are smaller than IKEA's - 3% or so. IKEA makes 6% in profit. Fortune magazine reports that IKEA salespeople earn $18,300 a year. IKEA's workers are non-union. IKEA's stores are larger than Wal-Marts, and thus have a bigger environmental footprint on a per store basis. IKEA also sources a ton of their stuff from China.

So they have a better "philosophy." Big deal. That's a totally subjective criteria. You're just afraid to let consumers decide, because if you actually gave them a choice, they'd choose to go to Wal-Mart.


Right. Accept WalMart wherever they want to be so people can save a few bucks in the short run. Meanwhile, WM methodically puts many smaller local businesses out of business, and manufacturers, worldwide, under their thumb.

Megalithic box stores really suck, but the public is easily overwhelmed by the intricate complexities of corporate business strategy. Ordinary people are just trying to save a buck, but they wind up cutting thier own throats in the long run, by hosting these businesses.

Yes, let them choose WM, HomeDepot, Ikea, and so on, but not without knowing what evil businesses they are.

P.S.: With the money the big boxes haul in, there's no excuse for them not to be creating the best, least neighborhood disruptive architecture possible.

Bronson Graff

"Anonymous questioner":

Simple rhetorical question. How many IKEA stores there are in the state of Oregon already?

Answer. Zero.

How many Wal-marts in Oregon?

Answer 29.

How many IKEA's are there, nation wide?

A whopping 28.

How many Wal Marts?

More than 1,100.

Now, who's business philosphy is more selective about opening stores and selecting locations?

3% profit verses 6%? You think the volume of revenue they generate makes them even comparable? They aren't. The only thing they have in common is the building type they choose to retail in.

You missed my point regarding philosphy of business.

They are not even in the same neighborhood as far as a determination to be omniponent.

The way each company affects our physical environment is radically different in scope.


I'm a midwest transplant and I grew up in a WM infested suburb. I've witnessed one thing that hasn't been mentioned yet with big box business and it's not just the immediate impact on smaller businesses and the built environment. Over the long term I've noticed WM is also in the real estate business. One year the local WM closed only to sprout two new Super WMs leaving an empty big box shell unoccupied and unavailable for other big box competitors to move in. And if a big box WM scares you there's a mini-me version of WM, called neigborhood WM available. They've been around quite a while now.

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