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Urban residents should have access to Walmart

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It’s time for big cities to overcome their fear of Walmart.

It’s time for big cities to overcome their fear of Walmart.

The problem surfaced again recently as the world’s largest retailer worked to counter opposition to plans for its second location in Chicago and a spate of news reports appeared about the company’s search for sites in New York City, where it has yet to open a single store.

At presstime, the zoning committee of the Chicago City Council was poised to vote on a large-scale development called Pullman Park in the 9th Ward, the centerpiece of which is to be Walmart’s initial supercenter in the municipality. Spearheaded by labor unions, the opponents of the proposal have raised concerns about the retailer’s compensation and employment practices. The fight mirrors earlier battles in Chicago, when Walmart narrowly won approval to launch its first store in 2004 and lost a subsequent bid to open another.

Worries about relatively low wages and the effect the presence of a Walmart store would have on traffic and other aspects of the environment were also expressed in New York when several media outlets reported on the retailer’s interest in a shopping center development in Brooklyn. A spokesman for the company confirms that Walmart continues to evaluate sites in all five boroughs, but says no deal has been struck.

The histrionics touched off by the prospect of a Walmart opening in a major American city are remarkable. While it’s right to hold the company to the same employment, environmental and other standards that apply to businesses in a given jurisdiction, the retailer shouldn’t be singled out for special treatment.

Those who are concerned about Walmart’s potential impact on a community should stop and think about the benefits associated with its stores. Access to quality merchandise, including food and health care products, at sharp prices is a godsend to many consumers, especially those on the lower tiers of the income scale. And in the current economic environment, where the national unemployment rate remains near 10%, the jobs and possibility of advancement created by a Walmart store are nothing to scoff at.

Given the choice, many consumers in Chicago, New York or any other city would respond favorably to the retailer’s intense focus on delivering the highest degree of value possible. Urban residents deserve to have that option.


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