Walmart's Cloud of Inexorable Doom

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Portland has a love/hate relationship with Walmart that's mostly tilted (except when Fred Meyer's and Safeway are closed and you own a car and don't mind driving to Happy Valley) toward the hate side of the equation. And with neighbors talking about that new Walmart in North Portland (and our formerly anti-Walmart mayor's softening stance), I couldn't help but share yet another set of terrible findings about Walmart's murderous effect on local businesses.

The closer to Walmart an existing business finds itself, the more likely it is to go belly up. That's the main finding in a University of Illinois-Chicago study, written up today by The Atlantic Cities, that began with an examination of Walmart's effect on one poor Chicago neighborhood. What that means is that any immediate jobs gains bestowed by the sudden arrival of big-box store are quickly eaten up by a steady, inexorably wave of carnage.

Farther out from the store, about four miles or so, the rate of closure is about average, or roughly 24 percent of small businesses, according to Persky. "Small businesses often close. They have a high turnover."

But the closer a store was to the Walmart location, the greater the likelihood it would close. Persky and his colleagues found that for every mile closer to the Walmart, 6 percent more stores closed. Close in around the store's location, between 35 and 60 percent of stores closed.

And depending on the type of business, the impact of a Walmart moving in can be much worse. Persky says that the per-mile closure rate increase for drugstores is almost 20 percent. For home furnishings, it's about 15 percent. For hardware stores, it's about 18 percent per mile. For toys, it's more than 25 percent per mile.

The study's author says there might be good reasons to dance with the devil; it's just that justifying that with a claim of "economic development" shouldn't be one of them. Walmart has answered the UIC finding with a much more favorable study by an "independent" researcher that the billion-dollar small-town harvester, it turns out, commissioned all by itself. Go figure.

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