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1999-12-12
Las Vegas, NV. Wal-Mart's Bad Gamble

County Commissioners in Clark County, Nevada voted in early October to amend the county's zoning ordinance to require any retail store larger than 110,000 square feet to limit their sale of non-taxable goods (mostly groceries) to no more than 7.5% of floor space. The Commissioners' 3-2 vote applies to all logos -- Wal-Mart, Albertson's, Von's, Costco -- any retailer wanting to build on a large scale superstore. Although opponents of the new ordinance say it was union inspired, the ordinance would apply to union and non-union retailers equally.Las Vegas already has 85 grocery stores, and area activists argued that huge superstores are bad for the neighborhoods they invade, and bad for the area's economy. Wal-Mart, which already has at least 5 stores in Las Vegas, filed a temporary restraining order in the U.S. District Court to prevent the new ordinance from stopping permitting on 2 superstores, and the judge ruled in early December that the ordinance cannot be used to stop construction of the 2 Wal-Mart supercenters already awaiting final building permits. But the judge did not rule on the constitionality of the ordinance. "But there is still the issue of whether the ordinance is constitutional," Wal-Mart's Daphne Davis told the Las Vegas Sun newspaper. "We still strongly believe the action of the Clark County Commission is an unconstitutional restraint of trade." Wal-Mart has admitted that it plans to build at least 5 supercenters in the immediate Las Vegas area. They have not indicated what they will do with the existing stores that some residents fear will simply be shut down. Most recently, a local CBS radio station has begun a petition drive to gather enough signatures to put the Clark County ordinance, which is almost identical to one being challenged by Wal-Mart in Tucson, AZ (see newflash below), before the voters. Such a referendum is not likely to take place until next September, but anti-Wal-Mart activists expect Wal-Mart to spend significant amounts of corporate funds to influence the vote. The Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce has also jumped in on the Wal-Mart side, apparently offering to spend money to help gather signatures. One local reporter has written that Wal-Mart has hired "signature collection experts" to ensure that enough signatures (around 27,000 voters) are collected. Opponents of the new ordinance say that the law denies them their freedom of choice about where to shop, which must rank right up there with the freedom to park anywhere you want. Las Vegas already has zoning restrictions about which stores can have slot machines, and restrictions on casinos. Commissioner Erin Kenny, who offered the ordinance, also pointed out that gaming and smoking are not permitted in department stores, but would be allowed in grocery stores. Large supercenters, even though they are predominately department stores, could allow smoking and gambling by describing themselves as groceries. Opponents of the new ordinance say it will hurt competition, while supporters say that Wal-Mart represents the end of competition, not the beginning. Officials at the United Food and Commercial Workers have released studies that show food prices continue to rise as Wal-Mart shares of the grocery market increase. In Columbia, South Carolina, for example, Wal-Mart's share of the food market rose from 0% to 7.6% between 1992 and 1999, yet food prices rose 1,200% faster than the cost of living. In Little Rock, AR, Wal-Mart's home state, Wal-Mart's food share of the market rose from 0% to 11.3% from 1992 to 1999, yet food prices rose 337% faster than the cost of living. "Wal-Mart tells us 'Always'", said the President of the Nevada Council of Senior Citizens. "But when you look at what Wal-Mart does, you have to ask: always a scam?" Citizen's in favor of the ordinance say the huge supercenters suck revenue out of the community, and amount to nothing more than a "sucker's bet" for Las Vegas taxpayers.

What you can do: Ironically, Wal-Mart PR officials were in Las Vegas recently to present a workshop at a national conference entitled "How to Deal with An Angry Public" -- a topic that Wal-Mart certainly should know about. For further information about food prices before and after Wal-Mart arrives, contact the United Food and Commercial Workers at 202-466-1591.










 
 
"Norman has become the guru of the anti-Wal-Mart movement" ~ 60 Minutes

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