20 Aug 2014
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Time to Talk About WalMart

If it were a Publix, would you be as upset?

Time to Talk About WalMart

I know, I touched on the whole WalMart building a store downtown issue last week, but Athens, we need to have a talk.

I'm no fan of WalMart, let's be clear. Their politics stink, they routinely give their workers the shaft, and when they move out of a location, they leave behind an essentially unusable shell of a building and a few acres of asphalt.

And, as a pal of mine once said, WalMart is apparently a place people go to spank their kids in public.

I get all of that. But people are flying off the handle at the possibility of WalMart taking over the old Armstrong and Dobbs site downtown, and guys, I just can't get mad about it.

, I'm worried about the traffic, but I'm pretty sure that's not enough of a reason to axe the concept right off the bat.

I get that WalMart is a potentially pretty bizarre addition to downtown Athens. I also get that we're looking down the barrel of a 39% poverty rate, and that things aren't likely to get better anytime soon.

That means you've got to consider two things. First, not everybody living within spitting distance of downtown is living the bohemian lifestyle, where the most important quality of life issue is easy access to West Washington Street. There are a lot of people living in poverty a stone's throw away from College Square. It would be awfully nice if they didn't have to drive or take the bus to the suburbs to buy groceries and medicine.

And let's talk about the other thing, too - jobs. We need 'em. Is "WalMart" synonymous with "low-wage jobs?" You betcha. Are low-wage jobs better than no-wage, no jobs at all? Absolutely. 

Here's the thing. For all of our hand-wringing on economic development, for lo, these many years, not a whole heck of a lot has happened. We've had chances to bring in new business, and those chances have evaporated eventually.

It's not the Commission's fault, it's not the current Mayor's fault, nor is it the fault of her predecessors. It's not the EDF's fault, or the Chamber of Commerce's. It's all of our faults. We all get some of the blame.

As a community, we can't come to a consensus on what kind of economic development we want. And we can't reconcile a lot of what we want with what is actually possible and practical. Would we love to see an Athens where everyone works at a film production studio, or a recording studio, or a digital media group? Of course. But that's not going to happen.

So let's start modestly. Let's not run WalMart out of downtown on a rail, especially when it's still just a rumor. Who knows? Maybe they can help us find a handhold out of this economic abyss.

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