The last time a Walmart opened in Austin was six years ago. It opened, but not without a massive fight that lasted years.
Hope Morrison was one of hundreds who testified against Walmart and Lincoln properties – the developer in the deal. She spoke before the Austin City Council in 2006.
“When we dropped off petitions on Monday, I brought my 6- and 4 year-old daughters with me. I want them to learn, not only how important it is that citizens be engaged, but also that our government represents citizens and will stand for what is right,” Morrison said. “Tonight, the action that you take or don’t take will send a message to not just the Lincoln property company, not just to the neighbors, but to my children.”
Some neighbors in the well-to-do area argued that round-the-clock Walmart delivery trucks would destroy their roads.
Others also argued that such a massive store would attract rats and other pests. They held rallies and town-hall style meetings. Jason Meeker spoke at one.
“This battle is bigger than our neighborhoods, it’s bigger than the city,”Meeker said. “You don’t mess with Texas. You don’t mess with our neighborhoods.”
A couple of years later, the store opened. Tempers calmed down and everyone moved on.
But the same event in a different part of the state yielded very different reactions.
“It’s the little city of Waskom and we are right in the Louisiana line. You leave Waskom – you’re in Louisiana,” says Jesse Moore, Waskom’s mayor.
He says the new Walmart is a huge blessing to his community.
“With the Walmart’s coming and opening up here, there’s been some job growth,” Moore says. “In addition to getting the Walmart, we just recently opened a brand new McDonald’s.”
Those new businesses mean new jobs and sales tax revenue. But it’s more than that – there was some joy in Mayor Moore’s voice.
How can the same retailer face such hatred in cities like Austin – and be received with such gratitude in communities like Waskom? Consultant Bob Rodino has been studying Walmart for more than a decade. He’s provided sharp criticism against the retailer in cities like Dallas and San Francisco – even helping to prevent new Walmart developments in some places.
“I jokingly say ‘No, I shouldn’t go into a Walmart because they have my picture,'” Rodino says, jokingly. “Of course that’s not true!”
Rodino says he’s studied the lawsuits Walmart has faced for gender discrimination, has done market analysis on its low-wage salaries and has proof the retailer obliterates existing mom and pops stores. But even Rodino admits – Walmart stores are a “blessing” to small towns.
“The blessing is that they’re bringing something that they don’t have,” he says, “not taking away something they do have.”
In Manor, for instance, just east of Austin, the Walmart opened over a year ago and people still talk about it as the greatest thing that has happened to the rural community in a long time. Rodino says it gives people the feeling that their small town has finally arrived.
“Wow, we got a Walmart and now we got a McDonald’s and maybe even a Starbucks will move in eventually – the darling of everyone’s community,” Rodino says.
It all depends on perspective. For neighbors in small towns, it provides businesses, jobs and shorter trips to the grocery store. They don’t seem to mind the constant delivery trucks – not even the risk of pests.