By BILL ENYART
Like many small-town Americans who have seen what Walmart has done to our local downtowns and small businesses, and like many who grew up in union households and witnessed Walmart’s long-standing anti-union practices, I am, at best, biased against the world’s largest private employer.
I seldom shop there unless I have absolutely no other choice. All too often in southern Illinois there is no other choice, unless it’s a dollar store or a convenience mart.
I’ve railed against its low wages, firing of pro-union workers, and destruction of the small-town business districts of my youth. But obviously, Sam Walton, who started with one five and dime store on the town square in Bentonville, Ark., had a brilliant model. Americans love cheap prices. They love easy parking. They like shopping in one store.
‘PEOPLE GET HURT’
In less than the span of a lifetime, he built an empire – a retail empire, a wholesale empire, a trucking empire, a real estate empire. When empires get built, some people get hurt. A few people get wealthy and powerful. The wealth generally flows to the center of the empire.
So it is with Walmart. Sam’s kids are among the wealthiest people in the world. Wealth has flown to the center of the empire, Bentonville, Walmart’s world headquarters. With the Walmarts, super Walmarts, Sam’s Clubs and now Walmart Neighborhood Grocers, it appears likely that wealth will continue to be sucked out of downtown small-town America and into the coffers of people who buy professional sports franchises for their personal toys, while paying most of their employees starvation wages.
Bentonville is about the size of my hometown, Belleville, Ill., that is to say about 40,000 residents. The difference is the Walton money and Walmart world headquarters. Vendors and would-be sellers to the world’s largest retailer come from all over the world to sell or try to sell to it. This fills the hotels and restaurants with free-spending, expense-account business people.
Sam Walton’s original five-and-dime store is now preserved as a museum on the town square. I appreciate what Walmart and Sam’s heirs have done for Bentonville. I like the Crystal Bridge Art Museum, built by a Walmart heir. I like that Americans can save money shopping. None of that means I’ll be shopping at Walmart anytime soon, nor will I like its labor practices nor its destruction of small-town America’s downtowns.
WHAT ARE YOU DOING FOR AMERICA?
And like most folks who live near St. Louis, I really dislike Walton son-in-law Stan Kroenke for what he did using Sam’s money and the St. Louis Rams. At least Stan and his lawyers sent back $790 million for moving the Rams out of town – after a scorched-earth, fight-every-battle, never-say-settle legal fight.
Andrew Carnegie, the 19th-century steel baron, built libraries in small towns across America. Waltons, what are you going to do for America?
(William Enyart is a former U.S. congressman for Illinois’ 12th District and retired two-star general with 35 years in the military serving in the U.S. Air Force, ultimately serving as Adjutant General of Illinois, commanding both the Illinois Army and Air National Guard. He started his working life as a member of UAW Local 145 in Montgomery, Ill, where he and his father worked for Caterpillar Tractor. The Enyarts now live in Belleville. You can listen to his blog posts at https://www.buzzsprout.com/1089968).