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SLF and Walmart: Dialogue, Education, and Thoughtful Development Are Our Goals

Sep 29 10:36 am

by Joe Grafton

As you may know, Walmart has recently announced their intention to open for business in Somerville.  And for the first time in our history, SLF has decided to engage in an opposition stance.  Read more in our Boston Globe Op-Ed. This post covers, at length, why and how we made this decision and how we will be moving forward.  If you don’t want to do all that reading, here’s the summary (and if you’re interested in the volumes of data/research available on this topic, click here):

  • SLF believes the business model Walmart has used for decades causes devastation to local economies across the country and is not a good fit for Somerville.
  • We are actively engaged in a coalition of organizations, community groups, religious organizations, and organized labor to engage the community in a dialogue about this potential development and its potential effects.
  • Our coalition will seek to negotiate a set of conditions by which we could support Walmart opening in Somerville.  This is an important point.  It’s not “No” for us under any conditions, but rather “Yes, if” we can get Walmart to agree to be a responsible business community member.
  • Our work will be done in the vein of open dialogue, education, research and study, and cooperation.  There will be no torches or pitchforks.

If you’d like to get involved, email us.  If you’d like to learn more, please read on…

We believe and advocate for strong local economies

Before making this decision, the SLF board spent a significant amount of time discussing what this meant for Somerville, for the local business community today and in the future, and for our mission and vision of building a strong local economy.

Somerville Local First has never, in our some 3 and 1/2 years of operation, taken a stance in opposition to a business opening in Somerville.  Our core values are positive and strive to encourage and educate our community of the benefits of what we are for: strong and sustainable locally-owned and independent businesses.

In our deliberation, we considered a range of factors, including:

  • Are we an organization that opposes anything or takes a stand?  What is it about this particular situation that would cause us to do so?  How would this impact future decision-making around non-local businesses attempting to locate in Somerville?
  • With organizational resources already stretched thin, what are the implications of dedicating time to opposing the single most powerful business in the world, which has virtually unlimited resources at its disposal?
  • Would taking a stand against this cause us to lose members who were disillusioned with this stance. Would not taking a stand cause the same thing among a different population of members?
  • If we were to oppose Walmart, do we risk polarizing segments of the community?  Will we burn bridges with individuals or organizations by doing so?

After much discussion, our Board voted unanimously to publicly oppose the potential Walmart location in Somerville and support the organization of a community education campaign to affect that result.  We also decided that SLF will not make a habit of opposing businesses opening in Somerville; though we will review and consider developments like this on a case-by-case basis going forward.

We chose to act in this particular case because:

  • We believe that Walmart has been so egregious in its behavior and is such a significant threat to the long term health and sustainability of our local economy, that its opening under its normal business model is in direct conflict to our mission and vision.
  • We believe that, while Walmart is proposing a grocery store for now, their strategy in other metropolitan areas (namely Chicago) has been to enter the market with this type of business and once stablished, rapidly expand and absorb the market share of closed local businesses.  After a single Walmart opened in Chicago in September 2006, 82 of the 306 small businesses in the surrounding neighborhood had gone out of business by March 2008. (Study reference here)
  • We believe that the cost of inaction is more of a threat than the potential use of resources and loss of goodwill that may result from taking an opposition stance in the community.

Here are the parameters by which we will engage in this work:

  • First and foremost, this work will be done without a ‘torch and pitchfork’ mentality.  We will engage in a thoughtful, inclusive process that seeks to educate our community and local policy makers and political leaders.
  • SLF is now part of a coalition that includes Somerville Community Coalition, Groundwork Somerville, Jobs with Justice and many others.  We’ll be holding our first public meeting soon.
  • We will use our internal expertise to ensure Somerville has an informed discussion about the short and long term issues related to this potential development.
  • We will use the resources and relationships we have in the local movement (including access and support from leading national experts) to add further expertise to the discussion.

So, there is our plan and how we came to this decision.  If you have any questions, comments or concerns, or if you would like to get involved, please feel free to contact us.

It is our belief that there are times when you have to stand up for what your organization believes in, and this is that time for SLF.  Stand for something or stand for nothing.  SLF stands for strong and sustainable local economies.  We hope you’ll stand with us.

Filed under: Local First, Our Members

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