Thirty years ago Carroll faced an excruciating dilemma even the wisdom of Solomon and the penetrating research of a nationally regarded Iowa State University economist couldn’t fully reconcile.
Walmart, the Southern-fried discount Goliath, was on something of a reverse Sherman’s march, populating much of the nation with its stores from a Bentonville, Arkansas base. Walmart built 45 stores in Iowa between 1983 and 1994.
The Walton Family business had Carroll in its sights during that time.
An anxious gathering of Carroll merchants and community leaders collected in the basement of the former Tony’s Restaurant in that period to chart a strategy with the aid of Iowa State’s Ken Stone, a go-to expert on all things Walmart. Stone’s case: Businesses that compete directly with Walmart lose; those that offer other products bask in its retail draw, the so-called spillover effect.
Does Carroll fight Walmart, racking up losing legal bills, and potentially diminishing Carroll’s retail trade radius as the company locates stores, and later Supercenters, in nearby Atlantic and Denison and Storm Lake?
Or do you adapt, negotiate the best possible location?
Carroll did the latter.
Walmart, in a rare move for a company fond of the roaming outskirts of cities, opened initially in the central business district in what now is the Badding Construction-owned Carroll Depot Business Center — a complex this newspaper regularly defines as the most successfully repurposed Walmart structure in the nation.
Walmart shuttered its old Carroll building early in 2008, and then opened the freshly and separately stocked 143,000 square-foot Supercenter at 2014 Kittyhawk Ave. a little more than 12 hours later.
Walmart filed a $17 million building permit with the city to construct the Supercenter.
We stood with the small merchants of Carroll in the late 1980s and early 1990s during the Walmart debates. Our smaller stores were locally owned, community boosters, good employers and an essential part of the character of Carroll, as well as, admittedly, being terrific advertisers for us. We interviewed and quoted Ken Stone dozens of times and worked with messaging to leverage the increased consumer traffic to Carroll for small business. Painfully, like others, we acknowledged that in the rural Iowa of last decades, and within the flawed capitalism of modern America, having a Walmart is critical for regional trade centers.
Today, Walmart faces a different kind of criticism in the Carroll area — calls for boycotts, many from our readers, who are furious with the company’s decision to require COVID-19-thwarting masks in its stores. This is, by the way, the position of 100 doctors and medical professionals tied to St. Anthony Regional Hospital, Carroll County’s largest employer, who signed a letter to the editor in this newspaper urging mask wearing in public.
What we find troubling with the online calls for boycotting the Carroll Walmart, often accompanied by suggestions to shop on Amazon.com instead, is that it is an astonishingly ill-conceived strategy that would transfer money from Carroll County to Seattle, Washington, Amazon’s headquarters. It’s like the people keyboarding this wrong-way idea have reverse Midus Touch powers in their fingertips.
Walmart annually pays about $218,000 in local property taxes in Carroll County, $98,000 in the City of Carroll alone.
Amazon pays nothing in local property taxes, and is an infamous escape artist on other taxes nationally.
Those Carroll Walmart tax dollars go to support schools and programs in rural areas operated by our county, among many, many other services and public works.
What’s more, Walmart, while in the Carroll city limits, is not served by MidAmerican Energy, but rather the Glidden-based 2,750-member Raccoon Valley Electric Cooperative. Walmart is one of the larger-end users of electricity in the cooperative, a key member in keeping rates and services stable for farmers and other rural residents in a nine-county reach of western and central Iowa.
By not shopping at Walmart, and going online to stores with no Carroll presence or workforce or connection, you are hurting people in Carroll, not the Walmart corporation itself, which is making the mandatory mask-wearing decision on a national scale rather than applying it in a patchwork fashion. The choice will be popular among more liberal younger populations and other ascendent demographic groups in the United States, meaning, long term, this is a winner for the Walmart brand, or so the economic modeling experts with the company reason, no matter what people do in the Carroll area.
So why hurt the local Walmart workforce, dent our property and local-option sales-tax collections?
And more to the point: if you are angry about compulsory masks, and think they are tied to Democrat conspiracies, why call for people to shop on Amazon, which is based in a city so liberal it allowed the weeks-long existence of a police-free zone? Amazon also is owned by the obscenely wealthy Jeff Bezos, who also owns the unabashedly progressive Washington Post newspaper. Do you want Bezos and Seattle deciding where your tax dollars go or the Carroll County Supervisors, Carroll City Council and other local elected officials?
For those who insist on directing anger at Walmart, we would urge you, in the spirit of Ken Stone, that tireless advocate for small business who became something of a household name around here a generation ago, to consider Carroll’s smaller merchants — and their websites — for your shopping needs before going on Amazon and boosting the liberal causes and places you no doubt purport to despise.
We need more people to reverse engineer their politics. Start with what helps Carroll County, and then work back. Sometimes you’ll be with the Democrats, sometimes the Republicans, many times with neither.