Friday, November 2

Cause and Effect: Walmart and Riffraff

A nice lady from St. Johns County was being interviewed on the news about the big shopping center going in near her house. She wasn't all that excited about the traffic, but she specifically didn't like the idea of a Walmart going in. She said Walmarts bring in the riffraff. No, not Riff Raff the rapper from Houston. She meant the type of people: disreputable or the lowest class. (OK, Riff Raff might qualify.) So the question here is whether Walmarts bring riffraff to an area or if Walmarts in an area simply provide a place for the riffraff that already exists to congregate.


Transportation
I will not be heading down to the new Super Walmart near the nice lady's house because it's too far away. Back when I was in Milwaukee as a kid, I used to ask my mom to drive out to Brookfield to the Kmart there so that we could avoid the Wauwatosa one. As a 10 year-old, I could tell the clientele at the Brookfield store was classier, and so my mom drove the extra five miles out of Milwaukee County. Looking back, the Wauwatosa store probably had people with lower income because there was a bus route right to the store. Then again, the Brookfield Kmart closed years before the one with the lower-income people because, you guessed it, people who lived in Brookfield were too good for Kmart and people who lived in Milwaukee didn't want to drive out there. Therefore, if the nice lady's house is in a very nice area surrounded by miles and miles of nice suburbia, the Walmart will close because she and all of her nice friends won't be caught dead in a Walmart.


In my research, I learned that 90% of Americans live within 15 miles of a Walmart (2012) and that Walmarts will make lower-income housing near them increase in value, but I could not figure out if people tend to skip over a dumpy Walmart to a shiny new one when it gets built (even if it increases travel time). If not, then the nice lady will have nothing to worry about, unless, as I said, she lives closer to the riffraff than she wants to admit. I know there was a Walmart built in Delafield, WI, and the exit where the Walmart existed was quite high in crime, mostly retail theft. There are all kinds of other stores there, too, and lots of fancy homes nearby. Whenever I went into that Walmart, surrounded by $300,000 to $1,000,000 suburban homes, I still knew I was in a Walmart. I might not use the word riffraff, but I can tell you that the Delafield Walmart was just as entertaining as the one on South 27th in Milwaukee. It's the same effect if you ride the city bus or hang out in a local library. These are places where nice ladies in every community have to come face to face with America. It's completely understandable that you don't want America snatching your purse.

Just looking at a map of Walmarts in the area tells you that no one from my area (Arlington) is going to bother to travel 25 minutes and skip over three closer stores just to antagonize the people of St. Johns County, unless it's to use a stolen credit card or purse snatch. Most of us don't do that, by the way. 

Demographics
The average household income for people that shop at Walmart is under $60,000, but as of 2012, those households spent $4000 at Walmart. The argument for the store is like the one I saw made a couple of decades back for McDonald's in France. French people love good food, but people who didn't have the money could still get food at "MacDo" (pronounced dough). Food is food, kind of. Weirdly, obesity also increases when Walmarts are in an area. Cheap stuff isn't always good stuff. When a household only makes $60,000 a year, though, that's not a huge amount of disposable income to shop at Macy's. I also can't see these folks spending $5 in gas money to get to the "fancier" Walmart. Then again, people make some odd decisions with limited resources, like leasing rims for their pickup trucks.

Walmart is not going to push its weight around for a new store that will close for lack of customers, and there are plenty of ways to make sure the proper shoppers show up. What the nice lady in St. Johns County may not realize is that someone out there wants to build lots and lots of "luxury" apartments very close to the Durbin Park area. Selling points will include nearby shopping and the right zip code to get your kids into the St. Johns schools. If residents in an area want to fight traffic gridlock and unsavory characters, then they may oppose these apartments, but the area is expanding, and we need housing, so it won't work.

All in all, I'd recommend that people who don't want the Walmart avoid the store. I don't shop at Walmart unless it's necessary, like maybe four times a year. I appreciate the inventory in very special cases. Since I don't really tend to shop there, I'm generally not bothered by the antics that probably go down in the parking lot or in the store. If you can afford to get all your finery at the St. Johns Town Center, then, by all means, have your chauffeur drive you there. If you just hate Walmart and the riffraff who end up shopping there, have Amazon deliver your packages and stand guard so the riffraff isn't taking the boxes off your porch. Or choose Target, which has a strict No Riffraff policy.