Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Thursday, July 10, 2008

PALOUSITICS EXCLUSIVE - Wal-Mart: What's Next? Part Six

This is Part Six of a series of articles that will explore what happens when a Wal-Mart Supercenter comes to town.

The information contained below is being made publicly available on the web for the first time.

Back in 1994, in the Central Washington city of Wenatchee, one of the first Wal-Mart stores in our state was built. As this store has now been open 14 years, it can provide a good example of the long-term effects of Wal-Mart on a community

Michael Luis & Associates, a public affairs, communications and civic leadership consulting firm in the Seattle area, has prepared profiles assessing the impact of the opening of Wal-Mart stores in communities throughout Washington. The one concerning Wenatchee can be downloaded here.

Some highlights:
  • ...the retailing world discovered Wenatchee. Allison Williams, of the Wenatchee Mayor’s office, and who was with the Wenatchee Downtown Association at the time, says that she “can’t isolate the arrival of Wal-Mart from the arrival of the rest of the ‘marts.’ Within two years we had new K-Mart, Target and Costco stores. Word had gotten out that the region was underserved.”

  • The outside “discovery” of Wenatchee, combined with internal economic development efforts, transformed Wenatchee into a major retailing center for a largely rural area with about 200,000 people. According to Williams, it was “the story of every community that has gone from small to medium. Some businesses found that they weren’t serving the market, but many very good businesses survived and thrived, despite the opening of not just Wal-Mart, but several other large retailers.”

  • According to those who observed the arrival of Wal-Mart and other major retailers in the 1990s, the impact on existing Wenatchee retailers was not huge. Most stores survived and adjusted to the new environment.

  • ...in most respects the retailers of Downtown Wenatchee do not compete directly with Wal-Mart and the other big boxes...the region still has a large population of low income people and agricultural workers who shop at Wal-Mart but probably would not shop in Downtown Wenatchee....the typical downtown customer...having significant disposable income and a desire for unique goods.

  • Purchasing power is spread fairly evenly around the county, so Wenatchee is collecting more in sales tax revenue than its residents alone are paying out, making retail sales a valuable attractor of City tax revenue.

  • ...well-established training programs..help people make the transition from agricultural work to other industries...retail tends to be an entry point for these workers, and that stores like Wal-Mart provide excellent opportunities.
  • Monday: We'll go back over to the West Side and look at Wal-Mart in a town that was devastated in last year's floods: Chehalis.

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