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STORE WARS: When Wal-Mart Comes To Town


Business Practices
Pages: 1 | 2

People are surprised that Wal-Mart would even want to locate a store at Ashland, with another one 10 miles away. But that's part of the Wal-Mart saturation strategy. They place their stores so close together that they become their own competition. Once everybody else is wiped out, then they're free to thin out their stores. Wal-Mart has 390 empty stores on the market today. This is a company that has changed stores as casually as you and I change shoes.

- Al Norman, Sprawl-Busters
Lawyer presenting plans of Wal-Mart store
Wal-Mart lawyer Jay Weinberg at Ashland town council meeting

Empty Boxes
Wal-Mart stores are often the size of four or five football fields - huge in scale compared to many of the small communities that they neighbor. Criticized for deserting stores that under-perform, Wal-Mart has left behind more than 25 million square feet of unoccupied space across the country (May, 2000). The company claims it tries to sell these properties, but the only potential buyers are other big retailers, and Wal-Mart will not sell real estate to its competitors. In one Kentucky town, an empty Wal-Mart was torn down at the taxpayers' expense.

Nirvana CD Cover
With its roots in the Southern Christian heartland, Wal-Mart believes that being a "family" store is the key to their mass appeal. They refuse to carry CDs with cover art or lyrics deemed overtly sexual or dealing with topics such as abortion, homosexuality or Satanism. While Wal-Mart is the world's largest CD retailer, and in some regions the only place in town to purchase music entertainment products represent only a fraction of their business. However, it is a different story for recording artists. Because Wal-Mart reaps about 10 percent of the total domestic music CD sales, most musicians and record companies will agree to create a "sanitized" version specifically for the megastores. Sometimes this entails altering the cover art, as John Cougar Mellencamp did when asked to airbrush out an angel and devil on one of his album covers. Other times, musicians change their lyrics and song titles. Nirvana, for example, changed its song title from "Rape Me" to "Waif Me" for the Wal-Mart version. They also changed the back-cover artwork for the album In Utero, which Wal-Mart objected to because it portrayed fetuses. And when Sheryl Crow released her self-titled album, Wal-Mart objected to the lyric, "Watch our children as they kill each other with a gun they bought at Wal-Mart discount stores." When Crow would not change the verse, the retailer refused to carry the album. This type of censorship has become so common that it is often regarded as simply another stage of editing. Record labels are now acting preemptively, issuing two versions of the same album for their big name artists. Less well-known bands, however, are forced to offer "sanitized" albums out of the gate.

Wal-Mart's statement on stickered music:
Wal-Mart will not stock music with parental guidance stickers. While Wal-Mart sets high standards, it would not be possible to eliminate every image, word or topic that an individual might find objectionable. And the goal is not to eliminate the need for parents to review the merchandise their children buy. The policy simply helps eliminate the most objectionable material from Wal-Mart's shelves.

Magazines don't escape Wal-Mart's "family values" rule, either. Cosmopolitan, Rolling Stone, Vibe and others have been pulled off the shelves because the retailer deemed the covers too provocative. Some magazines willingly send advance copies to big retailers like Wal-Mart for their approval, and will even alter cover artwork to avoid losing sales.

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