Vol. 8, No. 15
April 13-19, 2000
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Wal-Mart: An Attack on Annapolis’ Character

A photographer named Myron Brody has traveled widely taking photos of Wal-Marts to show how formula architecture is spoiling the views around America.

He might as well have snapped one picture and saved film. For Wal-Marts look alike. All are gray-and-white windowless boxes with their blue-and-red sign at the back of treeless parking lots. You see them everywhere, selling their dulling sameness and their corrosive business practices.

Now, unfortunately, Wal-Mart may be coming to Annapolis. Anne Arundel County last week gave tentative approval to developers to build a 135,000-square-foot Wal-Mart at the Parole shopping center. Never mind that county planners have long envisioned Annapolis crossroads as a pedestrian-friendly shopping center.

If planners and the community want to be sure that nothing hideous emerges from this plan, they’ll need to be on guard. Because ugliness is sprouting everywhere and across the country, from Kent Island to southern California, communities are fighting to keep cookie-cutter Wal-Marts out of their towns.

Usually, the preservationists and the folks fighting for community character lose, as they did in Huntington Beach, Calif. recently when Wal-Mart plowed $380,000 into a campaign to defeat a citizens’ ballot initiative.

They’re big (3,500 stores with $165 billion in sales last year) and they’re spreading like poison ivy. From Arkansas, ole’ Sam Walton’s bargain stores have taken over retailing in the United States and Canada and moved into Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, China, Indonesia, South Korea and Europe, thanks to acquisitions.

Wal-Mart is a company with an attitude that begins by forcing the “Wal-Mart cheer” from employees in the morning. In selling cheap, they put pressure on local, homegrown establishments, the kind of places owned by you and your neighbors. They also pressure suppliers to cut costs, the kind of pressure that results in the closing of American factories.

They’re in non-stop environmental squabbles. Recent examples: In Tennessee, Wal-Mart’s developer apparently violated its permit in moving a stream to make room for 1,100 parking spots. In New Hampshire, where there’s another ruckus brewing, a Wal-Mart “environmental” analyst was quoted a few weeks ago as saying: “As far as we are concerned, these are basic wetlands, nothing special.”

Ralph Nader recently called for a boycott of Wal-Marts if the company follows through with a plan to sell irradiated meat at some of its stores, including its sister, Sams Clubs. The company responded by saying it will give consumers the choice of buying meat that is not blasted with radiation.

Nearly everywhere a Wal-Mart is announced, the community becomes divided into camps. Groups like “Up Against the Wal” and “Friends Against Irresponsible Development” sprout, and relationships in the community become frayed.

Anne Arundel County officials may or may not know what they’re in for.

They had better get prepared.

Copyright 2000
Bay Weekly