Big Box Out Of The Box

Hey All! Please read the below and let me know what you think. I am considering sending it to a letter to the editor of the local papers, and to the city council and mayor.

please leave comments. If you notice some incorrect data, please let me know.

Thanks jt

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Recently the Chicago city council passed a big box ordinance mandating big box chain stores pay a living wage of at least $10/hour with $3 for benefits, but this measure was vetoed by Mayor Daley and the veto was sustained when three of the city council members changed their votes to side with the mayor. For those who do not know what big box stores are, the ordinance states they have a square footage over 90,000 and the parent companies make at least $1 billion popped annually (Wal-Mart, Target, Home Depot, Lowes, etc.) These big box chains have several new stores scheduled to be built, mostly in underdeveloped neighborhoods, and have threatened to abandon or delay the building of these new stores until the ordinance is revoked.

The main argument against the ordinance is a logical one which states with out these mega-stores there will be no or little development in these underserved and underdeveloped areas, and a Wal-Mart or Target will provide much needed jobs to area residents. Many of the people in these areas need to travel a distance to get to a store, and mostly that is via public transit. I understand these arguments, and think they are valid, but I think, while they may hold water as short term rationale for allowing the big box stores, they are ultimately short-sighted. The money made by these stores does nothing for the community. The pay the employees receive (which would be a little over $13,440 annually for a full time worker at the proposed $7/hour scale) and sales tax are the only income the community would have from these stores. And most of the employee income would go to pay rent, insurance, and other living expenses. In fact, the $13,440 annual income for a family of just two is only $610 above the poverty line, that is one major emergency away from complete destitution.

So, if the big boxes are a bad idea for neighborhoods that need the jobs, what can be done?

I believe there is a wellspring of opportunity that will not only help the neighborhoods with their income woes, but will also help the communities grow.These opportunities help the city, and encourage all. My solution is to encourage entrepreneur’s to take the land set aside for these developments and plant their own stores. Instead of one mega-store sitting on 90,000 square feet, why not have 10, 15, 20 stores there? Why not have a family run hardware store sitting next to a family owned grocery store, with a mechanic across the way? Why not have the bakery provide the bread for the kids sandwiches?

But, how/why would someone want to put a mom and pop store in an underdeveloped community? What is in it for them?

The city, I am quite sure, is providing these big-box chains with some pretty sweet incentives to move into these areas. Why not turn around and give these incentives to entrepreneurs? The city has the land set aside, provide it at low cost. They city has tax incentives for the owners of these chains, provide those incentives to the LOCAL owners of new businesses. The city would help create traffic flow into these places, why not do the same to a small shopping area with many stores instead of just one?

Another thing about having small businesses in the area instead of the big chains is more of the money generated by these businesses will go to bettering the city. Target is based in St. Paul, MN. The profits of the store go there. Wal-Mart is based in Bentonville, AR. The profits would go there. Home Depot is based in Cobb County, GA. The profits would got there. On the other hand, Kopi is based in Andersonville. The profits go there. Afrocentric Bookstore is located in Bronzeville. The profits go there. These locally owned and operated businesses not only provide jobs for community residents, but provide income used in these specific neighborhoods. Money made in a neighborhood tends to stay in that neighborhood.

One concern brought forth by the opponents of the big-box ordinance is without these stores, there are no jobs for our residents. True. But, what kinds of real opportunity do the residnets have for growth in their positions? What kind of real opportunity does the kid stocking shelve have to become supervisor or manager. Most of the management of these stores would come from people being transferred in. People who do not know the neighborhood. People who do not know the needs of the neighborhood. People who will probably live in Oak Park. However, if local businesses are supported, management will inherently come from within the community. The workers and managers will know the neighborhood, and know the language and feel the pulse of what is going on. They will see needs and be able to adjust to meet those needs.

While big-box stores may provide an immediate solutions to neighborhoods in need, I firmly believe the true answer lies in allowing local business owners and entrepreneurs the opportunity to make their mark in these same neighborhoods. I believe there is the desire to build there, but right now there are not the opportunities or incentives. We are a city of neighborhoods, these neighborhoods can feed and nourish each other if allowed the opportunity.

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2 responses to “Big Box Out Of The Box

  • Kim Scarborough

    The money made by these stores does nothing for the community. The pay the employees receive (which would be a little over $13,440 annually for a full time worker at the proposed $7/hour scale) and sales tax are the only income the community would have from these stores. And most of the employee income would go to pay rent, insurance, and other living expenses. In fact, the $13,440 annual income for a family of just two is only $610 above the poverty line, that is one major emergency away from complete destitution.

    I don’t get this argument at all. So the income isn’t helpful because it goes to pay for rent and living expenses? Seems like the opposite is true.

    Anyway, your argument implies that if it weren’t for Walmart, people would be able to get high-paying jobs. Actually, the choice is Walmart or no job for most of the people who would work there, or a job that pays even less, like McDonald’s or, yes, one of those mom-and-pop establishments you are so fond of (who, when not hiring family, are guaranteed to pay less than Walmart).

    You’re also ignoring the advantages to shoppers where there’s a Walmart. I can afford to do my shopping at Whole Foods and the Spice House (and I’d be willing to bet you can too), but that’s a luxury that many people in the city do not have. Without the incredibly cheap prices of a nearby Walmart, people in low-income neighborhoods are forced to either take their groceries on the CTA (difficult; I’ve done it), or shop at one of these dingy liquor-stores-with-a-few-groceries and pay through the nose for a poor selection of crappy food. Your subsidized mom-and-pop stores might help selection a bit but it won’t provide lower prices than Walmart… and the more money the poor have to spend on food, the less they have to spend on education, medical care, and everything else.

  • Justin

    Kim thanks for commenting.

    The argument you did not get can be clafified to say the only things the income can be spent on is rent and necessary bills. There is no chance to spend money in the neighborhood, thus investing in the good of the neighborhood. This in turn would lead to the other part of your comment.

    While the mom and pop shops probably would not pay more than one of the big box stores, initally, the potential is there with returning customers and the building of a neighborhood customer base.

    I do not intend to imply that one would get a high paying job if it were not for Wal-Mart. On the contrary, I am saying that while the pay at WM would more than likely stagnate and stay pretty flat, a mom and pop would allow for more one on one training and the potential for higher pay, and maybe inspire advancement.

    I understand the appeal of shopping a the big-box stores, and I do from time to time (I am not anti-big store, I am pro-living wage and pro-neighborhood developement). My whole point is to correct exactly what you mention, “people in low-income neighborhoods are forced to either take their groceries on the CTA (difficult; I’ve done it), or shop at one of these dingy liquor-stores-with-a-few-groceries and pay through the nose for a poor selection of crappy food.”

    And your agrument in the last sentence is valid, but i bet the amount saved on transportation would make up for the slightly higher prices.

    I realize this is a catch 22 problem. I am just trying to think outside the box, and figure out how to help the neighborhoods, not just the corporations.

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