Sitnews - Stories In The News - Ketchikan, Alaska - Opinions



Wal-Mart and an Equal Playing Field
by Mark O'Brien


July 31, 2004

This past week many shoppers in town (and around the state, thanks to a local article being picked up by the Anchorage Daily News) were discussing the penalty slapped on Wal-Mart for non-compliance after their reported failure to suspend sales of cigarettes, as directed by the state Department of Health and Human Resources. Last year there had been a state sting team in Ketchikan, looking for retailers who sold cigarettes to underage customers. Several local retailers were caught in this sting, fined and given a two-week period when tobacco sales were suspended. Every retailer in town complied with the suspension, except Wal-Mart.

The state agency involved with the suspension was asked why Wal-Mart was allowed to continue tobacco sales during their two-week penalty period, when every other merchant caught in the sting complied. The state department would not investigate the reported non-compliance. Sales records are kept by all retailers, but the state agency which issued the suspension refused to follow through on the issue. Instead the agent involved told the local merchants to prove that Wal-Mart did not comply with the penalty. Well, proof was obtained and Wal-Mart had their feet held to the fire. I say, Good for A&P for taking a sling to the Goliath.

Local, independent merchants have been scrambling to compete with the big-box merchants and well-financed chain stores. Wal-Mart is a professional operation and nothing, nothing escapes their quest to increase sales and profits. And that is most often a good thing. Last year when many Wal-Mart operations were caught employing illegal workers on cleaning crews, they were fined. But oddly enough, Wal-Mart stock rose the day of the reported fines. Apparently this company had shown Wall Street investors a true zeal towards profits, whatever it takes. Well, this zeal can run afoul of fair competition. Perhaps the managers of our local Wal-Mart forgot about the suspension, but highly unlikely.

As shoppers in Ketchikan this week get to see what kind of a grocery store remodel can be had for 8 million dollars, please think about your local, small town merchants. The local, independent merchants have been working hard to compete with out-of-state money and influence. They are doing a good job and deserve your consideration. Think about the number of businesses that have had to close in the last few years, unable to keep up with the chains' deep pockets. Pharmacies, music stores, variety stores, small grocers and such have all gone by the wayside, as well as some of the flavor of Ketchikan. Enjoy the big store and the glitzy remodel, but think about those gals that have handed you your coffee at the drive-throughs, the pharmacist who knows your family, the grocer who has been getting your special orders and donating to the local community for years.

Give these locals a chance to compete for your business. They have been and will continue to do just that. All they need is an equal playing field. The two-month hand slap given to Wal-Mart was an effort to remind them to play by the rules. Good for A&P and shame on the state Department of Health and Human Resources for making a local merchant do their work of compliance monitoring. And, more importantly, shame on Wal-Mart for not following the rules.

Mark O'Brien
Ketchikan, AK - USA


Related News:

Wal-Mart gets tobacco suspension...
Ketchikan Daily News - July 29, 2004

State snuffs tobacco sales at Ketchikan Wal-Mart...
Anchorage Daily News - July 30, 2004

State orders tobacco sales halted at Ketchikan Wal-Mart ...
Juneau Empire - July 30, 2004

Tobacco sales halted at Ketchikan Wal-Mart...
Fairbanks Daily News Miner - July 30, 2004



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