Wal-Mart expansion nothing to smile about

Once again Wal-Mart is encroaching on Kent. Plans were recently announced to turn the East Main Street Wal-Mart in Ravenna Township into a supercenter. Bad idea.

Wal-Mart is notorious for providing communities with low-paying jobs and sub-par working conditions. Most employees don’t receive a livable wage, and many are given just enough hours to keep them below the threshold to receive benefits.

Although the commercials show a hyper smiley face wrangling and roping price tags, not having benefits is anything but happy.

According to a story in The Washington Post, many Wal-Mart employees are paid well below $10 per hour. Because of the low wages, those employees don’t participate in the company health plan because they have to pay premiums and deductibles. When an employee gets ill, he or she must either visit an emergency room and pay the price, use Medicaid or simply not go at all. These people are already living in poverty, and the vicious cycle continues.

The announcement of a Wal-Mart expansion, including plans to build a grocery store, will be detrimental to the area. Acme, a local chain, and Giant Eagle, a national one, will feel the pinch of Wal-Mart’s ability to provide incredibly cheap products. Because of Wal-Mart’s sheer immensity, it allows the conglomerate to bully product providers into selling at the lowest possible price. According to a story in The Plain Dealer, Wal-Mart has been charged with predatory pricing, a cutthroat practice involving selling products far below the market price in an effort to put those providers out of business. Wal-Mart has denied the claim, but its track record shows otherwise.

The addition to the Ravenna Township Wal-Mart isn’t the only gray-box problem in the area. The company recently announced plans to build another Wal-Mart Supercenter on Tallmadge Road in Brimfield. There are 10 Wal-Marts within 20 miles of Kent. Building another just minutes away from the one in Ravenna Township will be destructive to the region. Kent’s small businesses have been trying to get a foothold in the area for years. Another Wal-Mart will certainly lure customers away from Kent, herding them to the new store with its dirt-cheap prices. Soon enough, other stores will be drawn to Wal-Mart crowds, and there will be yet another shopping center. It will be interesting to see how the Brimfield Wal-Mart avoids cannibalizing its neighbors.

Wal-Mart is not an attractive store. Its uniform design is enough to make architects cringe. The inside isn’t much better. Disorganized shelves and cluttered aisles make navigating the store a fright. So the addition of 80,000 more square feet of shopping space is indeed a scary proposition.

Beyond the additional tax revenue, there are no benefits to expanding Wal-Mart’s reign in the region. Employees and property values suffer because of the building. It just isn’t worth the “always low prices.”

The above editorial is the consensus opinion of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board.