Vancouver Coalition Fights Walmart

Date: 1 May 2002 | posted in: Retail | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

A coalition of neighborhood, small business, and environmental groups has gathered more than 4,000 petition signatures against a proposed Wal-Mart store in Vancouver, Canada. The coalition, Building Better Neighborhoods, formed in December when news of Wal-Mart’s plans to build a 130,000 square foot store on Marine Drive near Main Street first emerged.

The 9-acre site is located in an industrial zone, which must be rezone for commercial retail in order for the development to move forward. The city council plans to vote on the rezoning on June 27. In the meantime, the city has ordered an economic impact study, paid for by Wal-Mart and conducted by a consultant. The study will examine the likely impact of the store on neighborhood business districts and the local economy, and is due to be released any day.

“Our primary concerns are the impacts on local businesses, increased traffic and air pollution, and sprawl,” says Anne Roberts, chair of Building Better Neighborhoods.

The coalition’s petition contends that a big box store would “divert nearly $50 million in retail sales from local merchants and put an estimated 75 to 150 local stores out of business” and “attract 7,000 car trips each day, causing increased air pollution, traffic congestion and noise.” The petition also notes that for every two jobs created by Wal-Mart, three jobs are lost at existing retail stores.

Wal-Mart has distributed full-color brochures, flown in top executives, and hired a consultant to lobby for the store. Company representatives say their polls show three out of four Vancouver residents support the development, but they have refused to make the poll questions and results public, despite repeated requests from Building Better Neighborhoods.

The coalition’s own experience suggests widespread opposition. In years of community work, Roberts has never seen an issue generate as much interest and energy as the Wal-Mart proposal. “It’s taken off like nothing I’ve seen before. It’s amazing to me how many people are getting involved,” she says. The petition is being circulated by volunteers and is also posted at the check-out counter of numerous local businesses. About 100 people are active in Building Better Neighborhoods.

In addition to circulating petitions and organizing a letter writing campaign to city officials, the coalition also held a rally where the Raging Grannies debuted three new anti-Wal-Mart songs. The Raging Grannies are a group of women who dress like old ladies and sing satirical songs about important issues set to popular tunes. They invariably draw television cameras.

Vancouver has long been praised for its mixed use neighborhoods that allow people to shop for most things at small stores near their homes. The city’s major vision statement and planning document, CityPlan, strongly supports small-scale, neighborhood business districts. Wal-Mart opponents argue that rezoning land for a big box store would harm these districts and directly contradict the city’s stated planning policy.

Moreover, contend many local business owners as well as an editorial by the Vancouver Sun, allowing major corporations to buy cheap industrial land and get it rezoned commercial penalizes small businesses that must pay much higher prices for land already zoned commercial.

Wal-Mart entered Canada eight years ago when it purchased 122 faltering Woolco department stores. Wal-Mart is now the country’s top retailer with 200 stores and about $9 billion in annual sales. Current plans call for one new Wal-Mart in Canada every three weeks. Vancouver is the only major city without a Wal-Mart, although there are several in nearby suburbs.

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Stacy Mitchell

Stacy Mitchell is co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and directs its Independent Business Initiative, which produces research and designs policy to counter concentrated corporate power and strengthen local economies.