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By Tim Hunt

Battling a new Wal-Mart concept

Uploaded: Feb 16, 2012

Surprise, surprise?.there is a bit of controversy about Wal-Mart locating one of its smaller grocery stores in Pleasanton.
Wal-Mart, through an anonymous agent, submitted plans to open one of its neighborhood grocery markets in the old Nob Hill site on Santa Rita Road. It's a sorely needed addition to that shopping center where other merchants have suffered or closed without the anchor tenant—to say nothing of residents.
The Wal-Mart deal should be no big deal—one grocery store replacing another grocery store—I don't recall hearing too much flap about when Ranch 99 or Fresh and Easy came to town.
Of course, none of those companies are divisions of the world's largest retailer and one of the major targets of unions across the country. And, that doesn't include retail competitors who would just as soon keep Wal-Mart out of the city.
What was rather unusual during the packed council meeting was the number of speakers who favored the market. It's easy to rally self-interested union members to speak against, but there were both business owners and residents speaking for the application.
The Wal-Mart concept is an interesting one from another standpoint—big supermarket chains want larger stores that can include a range of services (banks, pharmacies, large ready-to-eat spaces) so they've been closing these smaller stores for years. Finding businesses to fill these spaces have been very challenging for the owners of shopping centers. Those anchor spots have sat vacant for years.
Livermore has two neighborhood centers without anchor tenants as does Pleasanton (the former Flair market site on Vineyard and Bernal plus Nob Hill). Wal-Mart is locating one of its neighborhood markets in a similar center in San Ramon and receiving some push-back from some residents. .
What understandably irritates opponents is the company's stealth approach to the cities by going through the leasing agents without identifying the firm.
From a zoning standpoint—which is the only appropriate way the city should consider the application—it's a permitted use—simply swapping one operator for another in the same business.
For some, however, what company does business in town and whether the work force belongs to a union is a consideration—not that it should be. Just like the federal government should not be in the business of picking winners and losers in industries it wants to favor—the same goes for local government.
Councilman Matt Sullivan exercises his "discretion" in this regard to a fault, seeming to base votes on how it will affect existing businesses and what wages will be paid to workers instead of whether it's a suitable land use. Fortunately, his proposal to consider requiring additional city review before a business locates in the city didn't attract three votes.
The protectionism is a failed policy. Competition results in better services and products and yes, it's a dynamic business environment. Things change and all of us must change and adapt as well.
People want value for their dollar—there's a reason the Costco and Wal-Mart do so well—regardless of age of their adult customers.