Friday, February 3, 2012

SOTW - February 2, 2012

I oppose the idea of a Walmart in downtown Athens. The reason why is simple: Walmart destroys small and locally owned businesses and replaces them with Big Box retail that has changed the aesthetic of America for the worse. I grew up in a small town. I watched one small business after another wither and die into the Walmart black hole. Civic leader after civic leader (my father included) fought in vain to reverse this tide and revitalize the downtown. To no avail. It's not because people stopped buying things. They just started buying them in the giant cinder block and aluminum cube out by the interstate instead of the plate glass, brick and mortar storefronts that had been the heart of commerce in the town for generations.

It's not enough to say, "but Walmart will create jobs and we need jobs!" Really? Do you have data to back that claim up, because that's not what this community experienced. I have no doubt the same story has played out in hundreds of other towns across this country. Sure, Walmart hires people, but how many jobs does their presence destroy? You can't discuss one without considering the other. More to the point, what kind of jobs are we talking about here? My firm has a growing employment law practice. Dozens of Walmart employees call my office each year, and we see their problems first hand. Not surprisingly, we just don't hear as much from the Marriott, FedEx, and Publix employees. Folks, not all jobs are created equal.

I run a small business. I vehemently support free markets and an economically growing and vibrant Athens. We need more jobs and economic growth, just not at the cost of the soul of our downtown. There is more to building and maintaining a great city than making every decision based on economic productivity. If that was the only concern of smart city planners, Central Park in New York would be a giant field of skyscrapers. The Pritzker Pavilion in Chicago would be a Barnes & Noble with attached Starbucks. The ancient oaks that I was married amongst in the City Park in New Orleans would have been burned as firewood long ago and shotgun houses build in their place. Piedmont Park in Atlanta would be Ansley Mall, Phase II. Wouldn't the North Oconee Greenway be more economically productive if there were a couple of warehouses and a cattle processing facility there instead? Wouldn't that create some jobs and increase the tax base? Any takers?  

Your Early Evening Song of the Week for February 3, 2012 is an admirable effort by some of Athens' finest musicians to give voice to these concerns. I hope that our political leaders are listening, and that they will do what they lawfully and rightfully can to make our growth smarter.

1 comment: