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Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price

September 21, 2005 Local Business 11 Comments

Watching CNN this afternoon I saw a piece on Wal-Mart. Union and political leaders are finally waking up and realizing just how destructive Wal-Mart is to our society.

For many years my complaint was the big ugly store they built on the edges of small towns — closing main street. Then my issue was how they’d close several small town stores to open a super center — forcing many to drive even further from their old main street. Then we get the stories of employees being forced to work more than 40 hours a week without overtime compensation. The hiring of illegal aliens to clean stores was next. Now are all the reports of Wal-Mart price squeezing manufacturers to the point they either go bankrupt for move jobs to China.

Lower prices are usually a good thing. But at what point do we stop and realize that it is these low prices that is cutting into our way of life. What good will low prices be when all local jobs are exported to China? This is what is happening.

I’m certainly not a major fan of unions. Sometimes I think union leaders fight for wages and benefits that can make it hard to compete. An autoworker attaching a bumper on a car doesn’t need to earn twice as much as a school teacher. When they do it shows how messed up our priorities are. But what happens when the company is forced to outsource to China? The union, workers and community all lose out.

If you buy a Chinese-made low price item from Wal-Mart, or other big national chains, you are not saving money. Oh you may think you are saving money but really you are taking away work from a fellow American. You are also putting a business owner out of business. In the end that $3.99 item will cost each of us much more as we deal with an increasing number of poor and many more middle-class folks finding themselves out of work.

Wal-Mart says their average worker makes almost $10/hr – far greater than the minimum wage. I don’t doubt this at all. Still, a community cannot survive on a workforce making $20,000 per year. Who will buy houses? Who will support restaurants?

But people want to work for Wal-Mart claims the company. They cited a recent case of 12,000 applicants for 400 jobs in California. Does this represent high demand or high desperation? I think it shows how messed up our economy is. People should not be driving an hour to work at a $10/hr job. These 12,000 people applying for work at Wal-Mart stores should be manufacturing products to sell in stores owned by their neighbors.

This weekend I shopped at Soulard Market, Globe Drug on Cherokee and City Grocers. At Soulard Market I bought locally made soap from the Brende family as well as farmer-grown fruit and veggies. I also got a brownie from local employee owned baker, Black Bear Bakery. Admittedly, I bought a few magazines from Border’s in Brentwood on Tuesday.

Money talks and we must accept the consequences of how and where we shop. Places you will not see me are Wal-Mart, Sam’s, QuikTrip and local grocery chain and historic building demolisher Schnuck’s. I’m looking at local pharmacies so I can move my prescription from Shop-N-Save.

For more information check out WalmartWatch and a new film, Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price.

– Steve


A.G Edwards’ “Street Smart” Brochure Adds to Workers Fear of City

Earlier in the week I found myself on the 2nd floor of A.G. Edwards’ main building and next to the soda machines were some employee brochures. In a few prior posts I had been a bit critical of the A.G. Edwards campus. Wait, that is an understatement. I started off with an expletive laced rant last November.

Street Smart: Facts you need to know about the A.G. Edwards campus and your safety.

I could not believe this brochure. As soon as I read it I was furious. Sure, it is wise to advise employees about safety but you can do it in a way that doesn’t scare them so much they don’t explore the city.

Crime can happen anywhere and at any time.

A.G. Edwards is committed to providing a safe and secure environment for employees and visitors.

The Security Department has prepared “Street Smart” to help you avoid becoming a crime statistic. With that objective in mind, here are some suggestions that will hopefully keep you safe, secure and, above all, “Street Smart.”

Oh, good start. I can just see the new suburban employee that doesn’t know the city just having fears reinforced by such language. It only gets worse.

They are told while driving to lock your doors because, “a driver is especially vulnerable immediately after parking or when stopping for a traffic light or stop sign.” Other sections while driving include “be aware of your surroundings”, and “have your keys ready.”

The first subheading after “If your car breaks down” is, funny enough, “Avoid a breakdown.”
I love it. For your safety have “plenty of gas and good tires.” This is good,

“If you have tire trouble in an area of town where you don’t feel safe, keep driving, but go slowly. Tires and rims can always be replaced.”

Granted, if you get a flat directly in front of a crack house then stopping and changing the tire may not be advisable. However, i lived across the street from a crack house for over a year and never had any problems (and no, I was not a client).

In the ‘While Walking’ portion of the brochure the first subheading is good advice — “Know your surroundings, and walk with a purpose.” Makes sense. But the paragraph that follows is just fear mongering:

“Studies indicate that muggers target those who send out a signal of vulnerability. People, who walk down the street looking preoccupied, with their eyes glued to the pavement ahead of them, are especially vulnerable. Let your body language show that you’re alert – in other words, that you’re not a good target.”

The entire brochure (3-panel letter sized) includes very sound advice but in a way that would discourage employees from walking and exploring the city. The safest sidewalk is a populated sidewalk and the A.G. Edwards campus creates lifeless sidewalks. If the area around their campus is not safe it is not because it is in the city but because all their parking lots and parking garages have removed diversity from the streetscape.

If only A.G. Edwards’ architects and planners would have had some urban design “street smarts” the area would likely be more vibrant.

– Steve


“St. Louis” Companies That Don’t Have St. Louis City Locations

September 14, 2005 Local Business 10 Comments

Today I learned that online investment broker Scottrade is based in St. Louis — well in suburban Des Peres. Their office is near the formerly blighted Westfield Shopping Town known as West County Mall. Scottrade has five St. Louis region branch locations; three in St. Louis County, one in St. Charles County and one in Metro East. But not in St. Louis proper. Hopefully if they decide to add a sixth branch it will be in the city.

Another St. Louis area based company lacking representation in the city is grocery store chain Dierberg’s. This is not such a bad thing since they build massive boring strip centers like competitor Schnuck’s. We’ll see urban stores from national chains like Whole Foods, Wild Oats and Trader Joe’s before our big local chains wake up to changing attitudes.

Straub’s, with four area locations, has been around since 1901. Their West End location does a great job serving the needs of many customers. Downtown City Grocers does for downtown what Straub’s does for the West End although on a slightly smaller scale.

Local banks seem to be doing well but a number of them don’t have St. Louis City locations. As more and more residents flock to downtown and other neighborhoods it will be interesting to watch as new businesses open to serve their needs. Will it be the national chains or local businesses that fill the need. Unfortunately I think anti-city bias in the region will mean it will be local businesses and chains that will be the slowest to react to the increased demand in the city.

– Steve


US Bank Installs Bike Racks At St. Louis Area Operations Center


Regular readers of Urban Review – St. Louis know I have a thing for bike racks. Most often it is either the lack of bike racks, wrong type being used or the right type in the wrong place. My focus to date has been on bike parking for the general public — at local stores and shopping districts. For me going to work is walking downstairs to my office. But for most people going to work means heading to an office. Such is the case for my friend Jeff Jackson.

Jeff lives in North St. Louis County and works for US Bank in Olivette. This is not a branch location but instead a 300+ person operations center supporting their home mortgage officers in 26 states. In other words, an ideal place to have bike racks aimed at employees rather than customers.

Rather than finding excuses not to ride, Jeff is a committed transportation cyclist. Rain or shine, hot or cold Jeff is on his bike. Lack of proper bike parking at his workplace didn’t stop him either. He simply asked for what he wanted. Although it took some time to get it done, US Bank was receptive to Jeff’s request for bike parking. Sometimes all it takes to bring about change is asking a few questions of the right people.

Earlier this month two new bike racks were installed at the US Bank Olivette Operations Center in Olivette MO where Jeff works.
These two racks combined can accommodate a total of eight (8) bikes. The racks are an offset wave rack. These function very well as they support the bike in two places in much the same way an inverted-U rack does. These are great where you want to parking for more than two bikes.

“Bicycle Commuting to work has been a challenge for me (weather, darkness etc). But I wouldn’t change it for the world. It has made me a more productive worker, kept me healthy, less stressed and more focused. I appreciate that US Bank has put in new bike racks showing that it supports bicycle commuting as a valid alternative to the automobile. They are in turn making investments in their employees that will reap benefits in the long term.”

– Jeff Jackson


The lesson here is if you want bike facilities at your workplace you may have to ask for it. Many employers many not be aware additional facilities would be helpful. I applaud Jeff’s efforts to make commuting by bike to his workplace easier for himself and others.

– Steve


St. Louis’ City Museum: One of the World’s Great Spaces

August 3, 2005 Local Business 5 Comments

St. Louis’ City Museum was named one of the World’s “great spaces” in the Project for Public Space’s August 2005 newsletter:

The City Museum is like an amusement park in the middle of downtown St. Louis. It occupies an old shoe factory–a Depression-era relic that sculptor Bob Cassilly and his partners have brought back to life with a fantastically imaginative collection of play spaces, exhibits, and sculptures. Many attractions, like the multi-story slides (which visitors use as downward escalators), awe-inspiring underground cave system, and the interactive sculpture called MonstroCity (above), take advantage of the building’s unique spaces and industrial character. The museum invites its visitors to create and interact with exhibits. A tavern on the first floor called the Cabin Inn occupies a transplanted 19th century log cabin and is a popular venue for local musicians.

City Museum is just one of many great emerging spaces in downtown St. Louis. Kudos to Bob Cassilly for his vision and determination. The introduction to the piece read:

Ten lively locations–from a dazzling museum in St. Louis to an exciting market plaza in Brazil–are now being inducted to PPS’s authoritative Great Public Spaces website.

Nine additional places were added to the growing list. Stanley Park, Vancouver, BC; Jardin Juarez and Market Hall, Juchitan, Mexico; Museum of Modern Art Interior and Sculpture Garden, New York, NY; Kungsportsavenyn, Göteborg, Sweden; Devon Street, Chicago, IL; Largo Glênio Peres, Porto Alegre, Brazil; Wisconsin State Capitol, Madison, WI; Dapper Market, Amsterdam, The Netherlands; and Trg Bana Jelacica, Zagreb, Croatia
For more information on PPS see their website.

Not bad company we are keeping these days.

– Steve