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STORE WARS: When Wal-Mart Comes To Town


the story

Wal-Mart opponents holding up banners at town meeting
Ashland town council meeting
Robert E. Lee came here to fight In my home town Stonewall Jackson just spent the night In my home town Hard to believe, but it's true Now we've got some body new 'Cause Sam Walton wants to come here too In my home town. - Protest Song by Woody Tucker,Ashland, Virginia

Every day a new megastore opens somewhere in America. But in Ashland, Virginia (population 7,200), a group of citizens takes on the world's largest retailer along with the town's establishment. STORE WARS follows the controversy that tears the town apart, examining in the process the impact of big-box stores on small town America.

Railway tracks through Ashland
Main Street, Ashland, Virginia
Ashland, Virginia, situated just off Interstate 95 north of Richmond, is a town where the grocery store allows charge accounts and the doctor makes house calls. It is the only town in America where Amtrak trains pull into town and let passengers off right on Main Street. School bus drivers and morticians serve on the town council and the residents are fiercely protective of their small-town character. But this gentle way of life is jolted when Wal-Mart announces it wants to build a supercenter on the edge of town.

STORE WARS follows the events in Ashland from the first public hearing that galvanizes residents' opposition until the town council takes a final vote one year later. Arguments for the store include increased tax revenues, low prices for shoppers and new jobs. Franklin Jackson, a town councilman, wants to bring in those jobs and some of the old timers don't believe government should stand in the way of progress. Those adamantly opposed, including local business owners and transplants who came to Ashland for its quality of life, feel the store will destroy the small-town atmosphere, increase traffic and provide only low-end minimum-wage jobs. Hot debates ensue in churches, on sidewalks and in the local coffee shop. Says town historian Rosie Shalff, who narrates the film: "The town has never faced an issue that has stirred up as much emotion as this one."

The cast of characters includes Mayor Tommy Herbert and town council members who will eventually make the decision, Wal-Mart representatives and the "Pink Flamingos," a grassroots citizens' group opposed to the store. Mary Leffler, an occupational therapist, mother of four and head of the Pink Flamingos, is thrown into the political fray for the first time. "I feel as if we are about to compete in the Olympics," she said, "but we've just learned the sport."

Wal-Mart Stores, US and Argentina
top: Wal-Mart U.S.A. opening
bottom: Wal-Mart supercenter in South America

Between events in the town, STORE WARS introduces Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer and the second largest employer (behind only the federal government) in the United States. Colonizing the world through relentless expansion, Wal-Mart opens a new megastore every two business days and has expanded on average into one new country every year. A truly global company, Wal-Mart has redefined the shopping experience for the American consumer.

After intense pressure and with Wal-Mart promising almost four million dollars to build roads, the Ashland Planning Commission and the town council cast their votes to approve the building of a Wal-Mart supercenter in town. STORE WARS is ultimately a parable of our times about a determined group of citizens battling the relentless expansion of a global corporation.

Although the Pink Flamingos eventually lost their battle, many communities have successfully rejected megastores. View a list of communities that have said no to big-box retail stores. Visit the local coffeehouse and the nearby Wal-Mart to read and/or watch the pros and cons of having Wal-Mart in Ashland. See a map of Wal-Mart's expansion in Virginia.

Story | Small Towns | Big Stores | Sprawl
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