On Thursday, June 7, ITVS will
present Store Wars, an assertive program that explores
what happens when the mega-store Wal-Mart comes to town. This
hour-long program will speak to millions who have seen a Wal-Mart
arrive and radically alter their neighborhood; it will also
speak to millions of others, many who are unaware that Sam Walton’s
mega store is coming to their neighborhood soon, like it or
not. Store Wars covers the fallout that occurs when a
large corporation—Wall-Mart—decides to open a new store in one
small town—Ashland, Virginia.
Wal-Mart and everything that
comes with it—urban sprawl, jobs, traffic, tax revenues, and
reduction in local businesses—provokes strong feelings for and
against it. Some people love the low prices and one-stop shopping.
Others despise its low-paying jobs and separation from the community.
Several facts should be noted:
- Over 100 million people shop
at Wal-Mart per week in the U.S.
- Wal-Mart opens a new store
every two-business days.
- Wal-Mart expands to one new
country per year.
- With $160 billion in revenues,
Wal-Mart’s yearly income surpasses IBM and Microsoft—combined.
In order to maintain this level
of earnings, expansion into communities like Ashland is necessary,
even though other Wal-Marts are only ten-minutes away.
Ashland, Virginia is a small
town of 7200, slightly north of Richmond. Store Wars is
narrated by long time resident, Rosie Shalff, making this portrait
of a small town drama intimate. She introduces the viewer to
Mayor Tommy Herbert, who presents himself as both reasonable
and neutral on this issue, and Mary Leffler, a local business
owner who gathers the anti-Wal-Mart forces into a group called
the "Pink Flamingoes." Other actors on the scene include
Jay Weinberg, a Wal-Mart lawyer, and Al Norman, a consultant
from Sprawl-Busters. All of these players, along with concerned
citizens, business owners, and town council members, line-up
and face one another over one central question: should Wal-Mart
be allowed to come to the Ashland community?
by Robert Gassie
In round one, Wal-Mart presents
an offer that is immediately met with a number of objections.
The color and size of the store will stick out, the cost of
new roads will be excessive, and the traffic plan is inefficient.
Mayor Herbert and Councilman Stewart Reid visit the town of
Tappahannock, Virginia to gage the economic impact of Wal-Mart
on another community.
Here, a number of family
businesses, operating in the community for years, have gone
bankrupt. This has a number of consequences. Local businesses
kept their money in local banks and invested their money locally;
business owners also volunteered for rescue squads and fire
departments. The social fabric of Tappahannock seems threatened
by these changes. The Pink Flamingos bring in Al Norman of Sprawl-Busters
for expert advice on how to fight their battle. He informs them
of the possibility of Wal-Mart coming to Ashland, staying long
enough to drive out local competition, and then abandoning the
town. Residents would then be forced to shop at another mega-store
in Richmond, and the Ashland store would become one of over
300 buildings that Wal-Mart has left empty. In the first round,
Wal-Mart loses. The planning board votes against the necessary
re-zoning and the anti-store forces celebrate a victory. But
everyone knows it’s only a temporary respite.
In round two, Wal-Mart meets
the original objections and offers a more attractive package
to the town. They also bring out their big guns, publish full-page
ads in the local paper, and cozy up to the town council. The
vocal dissent, however, remains firm and far outnumbers pro-mega-store
supporters at town meetings. When the re-zoning is approved
at a town-planning meeting, it is clearly a setback, but only
the town council has the power to make a final decision. At
this point, though, the plot thickens considerably. Before a
vote can take place, local elections must be held. The elections
become a referendum on the Wal-Mart issue and to make matters
even more contentious, the current town council—win or loose—will
have the power to decide the issue during a lame duck session.
The situation has the potential of leaving bad feelings among
town members for years to come.
I’m not going to divulge the
ending, but it’s more that worth sticking around for. Micha
Peled has done a good job listening to everyone’s side of the
story, though it is doubtful that Wal-Mart will call the coverage
fair. Wal-Mart would rather leave unmentioned most of the following
- Wal-Mart offers health care
packages to full-time workers, but the cost is too expensive
for most employees.
- Full-time employees are paid
between $6 and $7.50 per hour and on average take home less
than $200 dollars per week.
- The turnover rate is so high
that Wal-Mart hires nearly 550,000 workers—or half of its
- Wal-Mart is ranked last among
retailers in charitable contributions.
- 85% of Wal-Mart’s merchandize
is purchased overseas, some of it from Third World sweatshops.
- Hundreds of musical artists
must create a second "clean" recording in order
to have their CDs displayed in Wal-Mart.
Wal-Mart would like to convince
us that the majority of Ashland really wants the mega-store
to come to town. It would like to convince us that every Wal-Mart
is filled with shoppers because of low prices and convenience,
not because it has driven other businesses out. Store Wars
does not argue the point. It simply shows that Wal-Mart
uses considerable resources, pushing its corporate weight, to
bring a new store to one small town in Virginia, regardless
of whether it is wanted. This is superb journalism, thoroughly
covering an issue that will continue to affect millions of people
in hundreds small towns throughout the United States for the
Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.
Micha X. Peled—Director/Producer/Writer
Monica Z. Lam—Associate Producer
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