Frederick, MD. Residents Wise To Wal-Mart's "Astro-Turf" Tactics
For roughly 20 years, Wal-Mart has been imitating the citizen's groups that have battled to keep the giant retailer from entering their town. One Wal-Mart official once said, "Why all the fuss? We're not a nuclear waste dump."
But for many small town residents, the analogy was not so far-fetched. Wal-Mart was seen as a dumping ground for cheap Chinese (and Bangladeshi) products, which had a devastating effect on the local economy, flattened competing businesses, hurt the environment, and damaged forever the quality of neighborhood life. A classic grassroots effort by local residents was challenged by Wal-Mart's 'astro-turf' campaign of hired PR firms, telemarketers, and Citizen Action Network.
A recent article on the Frederick (MD) News-Post described the "dazzling presentation" that Wal-Mart put on to convince residents to allow Wal-Mart to revitalize the Frederick Towne Mall with their superstore. "I'm not fooled by their glitzy sales presentation," wrote a Frederick resident with the appropriate name Jamie Shopland, "and what looks to be an astroturf campaign to push forward the low-wage retail giant's profit margin here in Frederick."
In fact, Wal-Mart created an astro-turf website for all of Maryland, part of its Wal-Mart "Community Action Network (CAN)." At this website, www.walmartmaryland.com , you can find out more about the Frederick store plans, join CAN, and find out how to lobby the Frederick Alderman.
But according to Shopland, Wal-Mart wants to build this 3rd store in Montgomery County, and recently pressured county officials to expedite a zoning change request in the town of Aspen Hill, which narrowly passed despite a petition against it signed by more than 2,000 people.
On May 9th in Frederick, Wal-Mart packed the hall with this people, and handed out a pamphlet claiming that Wal-Mart's average wage for full-time employees is $11.91 an hour in Maryland. "But when asked by a community member, the Wal-Mart rep couldn't answer how many of the 700 current Frederick Wal-Mart employees make this average wage." The Wal-Mart spokesman stated that the new superstore would create 300 new jobs -- but the net jobs left after you minus out the jobs lost at other retailers might be less than you could count on two hands. The retailer was apparently unable to explain what the "multiplier effect" of their jobs would be. "The Wal-Mart rep's lack of preparation was appalling," Shopland wrote.
The Washington Post carried a story a few days before the Frederick hearing stating that the United Food and Commercial Workers union had bee campaigning "vigorously" against the store plan for Aspen Hill. According to the Post, the UFCW "said Wal-Mart would place other Aspen Hill businesses, including a Kmart store and a Giant Food supermarket, at risk."
"Is this the best we can do for job creation in Frederick?" Shopland asked?
According to Shopland, Wal-Mart hired "outside consultants known for astroturf campaigning in towns they don't know or live in," and conducted its own poll of 700 people that showed people wanting another Wal-Mart. Twice that many people have already signed an online petition that reads as follows: "As residents of the area, tearing down the old mall to build a Wal-Mart is not what we need or want to revitalize our community. If Wal-Mart comes here it'll be the third Wal-Mart in Frederick, placing all of them within 6 miles of each other. If Wal-Mart comes to Route 40 you say can say goodbye to many long-standing stores, leaving many shopping centers emptier than the abandoned mall. Wal-Mart is not the Answer! We need to write the Mayor about this to get our voices heard!"
What you can do: The Frederick website displays prominently the proposed Wal-Mart plan -- but none of the opposition documents are referenced. In the Wal-Mart 6 page flier, the company states that its huge store offers a "contemporary array of compelling architectural enhancements," but the store design looks like a brick laid on its side -- one long unbroken fašade totally out of scale with the historic architecture of Frederick.
Wal-Mart also claims that most retailers along what is known locally as "the Golden Mile" are "complementary to Wal-Mart, and will benefit from the new Wal-Mart store." The retailer cites a 2008 study by the conservative Cato Institute which claims that "the popular and publicly accepted belief that Wal-Mart destroys small businesses is a misconception." Instead, Wal-Mart asserts that this new store will provide "much needed quality jobs and will boost the economic vitality of the community."
The Board of Alderman in Frederick are having a public hearing at 3 pm on June 5th on the Route 40 Wal-Mart plan. The Arkansas retailer is urging people to contact the Aldermen, but readers of Sprawl-Busters can email the 5 Alderman as follows:
Shelley Aloi: email@example.com;
Carol Krimm: firstname.lastname@example.org;
Michael OConnor: email@example.com;
Kelly Russell: firstname.lastname@example.org;
with the following message:
"Dear Frederick Alderman,
Do you want the Golden Mile to be known as the Sprawl Mile? You know that Montgomery County does not need another Wal-Mart, and the retailer is building larger stores just to replace their "old" ones. These stores are out of character with historic Frederick, and look like a "contemporary" big box brick lying on its side.
Another Wal-Mart superstore is not a form of economic development. Montgomery County need decent jobs that allow a family to pay its bills, not more sprawl-mart jobs that displace existing jobs. Wal-Mart's goal is more market share -- but what is Frederick's goal? Is it your goal to have national chain stores flooding your community with cheap Chinese and Bengladeshi imports?
Tell Wal-Mart to make do with the stores they have. Remember: this is the same company that wanted to build on the boyhood home of George Washington. Their sense of history goes back to 1962 -- and stops there. It's time for the Alderman to stop this superfluous superstore."