Wailing over Wal-Mart Featured

6:39am EDT June 30, 2005

As one might anticipate, news that a developer is looking to build a Wal-Mart on one of the last large developable parcels of commercial property in Penn Hills created a fuss in both neighboring Plum Borough and in the intended host community.

NIMBY -- Not In My Back Yard -- used to be a response reserved for proposed landfills, power plants or refineries. Now, it seems the mere suggestion of a Wal-Mart moving into a community raises the hackles of the affected locals.

The effort has met with the usual objections Wal-Mart encounters when it tries to build in communities across the country -- it will create too much traffic congestion, drive out local businesses and depress property values. A group of citizens has put up a Web site designed to convince residents that Wal-Mart will hurt both communities if it's successful in building a store in the municipality.

While the potential demise of local retailers is cited as a reason to keep Wal-Mart out, in reality, a lot of Plum Borough and Penn Hills residents routinely pass up local merchants to shop at the big name retailers and discounters -- including Sam's Club -- in nearby Wilkins Township and Monroeville.

In contrast to Wal-Mart's case, there was little opposition to Walgreen's plans to build three stores within just a few miles of the proposed Wal-Mart location, all at already busy intersections. The area is full of dollar stores hawking cheap merchandise, and gas station/convenience store combinations are popping up like dandelions in spring.

Perhaps Walgreen's idyllic commercials soften its image enough so that it's not perceived as a threat. On the other hand, the negative publicity that Wal-Mart has experienced regarding labor issues and its effect on local small businesses in towns where it locates hasn't been sufficiently countered by its advertising campaigns.

The marketplace ought to decide whether or not a business survives. If consumers prefer the local hardware store, pharmacy or supermarket, they are free to support them. No business, not even Wal-Mart, can force them to shop or work in its stores.

That's the power consumers have -- if they choose to wield it.