Fork Dork: Walmart Shopping in a Local Economy

Stores of differing types and sizes affect the entire business ecology from local stores. Local consumers still can vote with their feet and wallets.

Following up on the latest store openings in Bellevue I found a stark contrast in how different stores handle publicity. Hedge & Vine, the boutique furniture store set to open late this summer in Old Bellevue, is owned by Bellevue’s Stephanie and Andrew Hogenson. is a multibillion dollar publicly traded company.

Their reactions to my interview requests vary vastly. Stephanie Hogenson asked me to reply via e-mail so she can find out more about me before she agreed to an interview. I am still waiting to hear back. (Stephanie, if you get this message please reply to me at the e-mail address above).

Representatives of Walmart, which just opened  called me eagerly at 6:30 a.m. hoping to tell their side of their story because, according to one of their representatives, “they haven’t done a good job of telling their story in the past.”

Patch readers, please know that regardless of how attentive or regardless of size or ability to afford public relations consultants, I strive to report the news fairly. I am not easily impressed with glossy presentations featuring supermodels nor do I hold it against a small business for not prioritizing press relations. I suspect and sympathize that at many small businesses, such as Hedge & Vine, in all likelihood the boss is also responsible for greeting shoppers, making daily deposits at the bank and polishing door knobs when the time allows.

However, it is my job to filter all the information and deliver the distilled results that are relevant to Patch readers.

For example, weeks ago as I was approaching a press luncheon for my good friend Ian MacNeil’s new vodka, Glass Vodka in Seattle’s Sodo District, another writer and social media maven -- who shall remain nameless -- said to me, “I’m not going to say anything critical after they invite me to such a nice event.”

I was reminded of the difference between traditional journalists like me and the new era of social media. I refer to Twitter users who leverage social media to extort freebies from businesses -- Yelpers, that goes for you, too -- as twits. Know that I am looking out for the best interest of readers and not the interests of the businesses that I cover.

The following week I received a phone call from MacNeil and we agreed that my priority when I write is to my readers and not to my friends. MacNeil, the good friend that he is, is supportive of my career, even if it means I have to be critical of his new vodka (no judgment on the vodka, yet).

All of this leads me back to Walmart. According to the Jennifer Spall, Walmart’s director of public affairs for Oregon and Washington, the new Kelsey Creek Center Walmart is adding 220 jobs and $6 million to the local economy. The Walmart regional office has been in Bellevue for seven years now.

“Our landlords are greeting us with open arms,” Spall said. “In Factoria it’s the same. Everyone is excited. When you look at Factoria, everyone knows we draw foot traffic. Safeway is not the draw. Target is not the draw.

“We carry the same things that everyone does. We are just priced more competitively.”

Critics contend that Walmart eliminates manufacturing jobs in the United States, preferring to sell goods made abroad with cheaper labor costs. Critics also say that mega retailers such as Walmart put locally owned family stores out of business.

“Because it is the largest retailer it has an impact on manufacturing,” said Stacy Mitchell, senior researcher of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and author of Big Box Swindle.

Mitchell said that for every job Walmart creates it eliminates 1.4 in that local economy. Mitchell explains that with a multinational retailer such as Walmart many of the operations jobs such as human resources, bookkeeping, marketing and real estate planning, are concentrated in its headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas. When a local business closes and, for example, is replaced by Walmart, the floor staff job is eliminated as well as the operations jobs that supported that store which were likely held locally.

“What we are getting is job losses when Walmart opens,” Mitchell said. “You are not really creating jobs. You don’t create jobs because retail opens. The idea is that it’s going to be a job engine is not really accurate.

“Retail wages decline when Walmart opens. There are fewer jobs.”

Mitchell said a dollar spent at Walmart is a dollar taken away from local small business.

“Dollars going into Walmart are dollars that used to go to a small business,” she said.

Spall contends that Walmart does not compete with small businesses and thus is not taking business away from them.

“We are not taking business from small businesses,” Spall said. “We are taking business from QFC and from Safeway.”

Mitchell questions the cost savings to consumers shopping at Walmart. She contends many of the products made abroad and sold at Walmart tend to be made by poorly paid employees and likely to be of lesser quality, so, consumers shopping for such goods at Walmart tend to replace them quicker and ultimately spend more.

When I was growing up the “Made in America” tag meant something. It was an assurance that the product was the sturdiest and crafted for the discriminating consumer. Has it lost its value and luster?

“There has been a loss in product quality,” Mitchell said. “We are replacing things, electronics, appliances, clothing, some of that is driven because it is flimsily made. Which begs the question if we are really saving in the end.”

Stores such as Walmart have made it increasingly convenient to shop at their stores with teams of real estate analysts finding convenient locations and negotiating favorable leases, ample parking, competitive pricing and one-stop shopping.

I’m not asking Patch readers to make their lives more complicated by shopping at multiple local stores. I urge readers and consumers to consider the trickle-down effect of your buying decisions. If, as a consumer, you shop at Walmart, think twice before complaining about job losses and an eroding domestic economy.

elisabethavery July 22, 2012 at 08:32 AM
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Louise Marley July 22, 2012 at 09:01 PM
Excellent article, Chris! The Walmart model is historically a destructive one. The cheap prices today lead to enormous abandoned retail spaces later (because they don't buy, they lease). And this happens AFTER they've driven out small business and damaged the local economy. Where is their response to the accusations that their employees are so poorly paid they qualify for welfare? Your article is a good, balanced bit of reporting, and I appreciate it!
Ken James July 23, 2012 at 08:54 PM
Frankly, the anti-WalMart rhetoric sounds like whining to me. If the argument is that small business can't compete, then small business needs to get better at selling their advantages. If they can't do that, the marketplace will not support them. It's not typically possible for shoppers to accurately analyze the "worthiness" of one establishment over another -- it's the vendor's responsibility to 'sell' consumers on their value. If they can't do that, they should practice the phase "Welcome to WalMart" in preparation for their next employment. There are several independent studies which measure the short, mid, and long term impacts of WalMart. Use your favorite search engine to do a little research and I think you'll find that the results aren't what their competitors claim (imagine that!).
Ken James July 23, 2012 at 09:04 PM
Ms. Marley - I have heard a lot of accusations about WalMart, but 'hostage taking' is new. Are these 'poorly paid' employees being forced to work at WalMart? Is WalMart paying less than the legal minimum wage? Like just about everything in a free market system, employees will seek the best deal they can get. Why should WalMart be 'accused' of their employees getting welfare? WalMart doesn't create the rules that govern welfare. Many "low paid" WalMart workers have improved their income level and their positions by earning promotions at WalMart. I suppose you prefer to see a $20/hour minimum wage? That would exterminate WalMart -- and the low income earners that you apparently detest.
Soozcat July 26, 2012 at 04:08 PM
The new Walmart store at Kelsey Creek relocated to an area that had been a gaping hole for years, since the KMart that had previously occupied the space went out of business. There were no other mom-and-pop groceries in the area for this business to displace. The writer doth protest too much with high-minded words of journalistic integrity to cover an anti-Walmart bias, methinks. Here's a question I'd like answered. Why do the same people who hate Walmart for being a big-box money sucker also love IKEA for... being a big-box money sucker? Hypocrisy much?


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