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STORE WARS: When Wal-Mart Comes To Town


For Teachers
Lessons: 1 | 2 | 3

LESSON ONE: The impact of Big-Box Stores on Ashland, Virginia (and on your town)

  1. Introduction
  2. Standards
  3. Related resources
  4. Method of activity
  5. Method of assessment
  6. Author bio

1. Introduction:

In this activity, students will learn about the impact and effect a big-box department store chain has on a community by analyzing the Ashland, Virginia situation. They will also analyze how chain stores impact their own communities.

This simulation gives students an opportunity to not only research the viewpoints of the participants in the issue, but also an opportunity to understand the various issues and problems that city planners and city officials in general face when approached with a major decision such as approving zoning for a big-box superstore.

In the lesson, students investigate this in two separate ways. First, they conduct a real-time survey in which they research big-box stores in their area, such as Wal-Mart, K Mart, Home Depot or Target, including numbers of local people employed at the store, average salary, benefits, etc. They'll also gauge the effect of the big-box store on local merchants and local government.

2. Standards:

This lesson addresses the following national content standards established by McREL.

Civics Standards:
  • Understands about civic life, politics and government
  • Understands the role of diversity in American life and the importance of shared values, political beliefs and civic beliefs in an increasingly diverse American society
  • Understands the character of American political and social conflict and factors that tend to prevent or lower its intensity
  • Understands issues concerning the disparities between ideals and reality in American political and social life
  • Understands the formation and implementation of public policy
  • Understands issues regarding the proper scope and limits of rights and the relationships among personal, political and economic rights
3. Related resources for this lesson include:

Ashland and Wal-Mart Websites

Ashland Convention and Visitor's Bureau home page

Ashland city home page

Ashland/Hanover Citizens for Responsible Growth

Wal-Mart home page
Articles About the Impact of Wal-Mart

A story from the Sacramento Business Journal regarding impact of a Wal-Mart store plan in El Dorado County

A Dove Foundation column regarding Wal-Mart's selling of "sanitized" music

A Concerned Women of America story of Wal-Mart censorship of CDs

A story regarding the opening of a Minnesota Wal-Mart superstore where the community embraced it (from
(This story can also be found on the Duluth Tribune Web site)

A story from the New Rules Web site which notes the Ashland/Wal-Mart issue and notes a study of Virginia Wal-Mart stores which notes that when competition is removed, prices in Wal-Marts vary (often by as much as 25 percent)

A reprint of a 1994 Christian Science Monitor story about other communities' fight against Wal-Mart stores in their towns
Organizations Against Wal-Mart

Sprawl-Busters home page

An essay by Sprawl-Busters founder Al Norman regarding the negative effect of Wal-Mart in a community

A July 1999 Sprawl-Busters news flash which includes the Ashland Wal-Mart issue

A Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union page opposing Wal-Mart

An essay by Tom Meier in Conscious Choice which notes that Wal-Mart jobs are low-paying and money spent at Wal-Mart generally leaves the community in which the store is located
Government Resources and Business Reports

A resource for various state and local government agencies online (State and Local Government on the Net)

Library of Congress page regarding state and local government agencies

An excerpt from the Shills Report on Measuring the Economic and Sociological Impact of the Mega-Retail Discount Chains On Small Enterprise in Urban, Suburban, and Rural Communities
(Note: the entire report's table of contents can be found at

In addition, it is suggested that student participants in this lesson conduct their own Web or text based research for materials on the issue. Links included in this activity were gathered primarily from the Google Internet search engine. However, teachers and students can easily use other search engines, or research traditional sources of information if they prefer, or if they have limited access to a classroom Internet connection.
4. Method of activity:

In the first activity, students will survey and research local community persons and businesses to determine the impact of a big-box store on their community. Based on this information, they'll work to develop conclusions about the effect (negative or positive) of a chain store in their community.

Prior to the teacher showing the program STORE WARS, lead a short discussion about the role big-box department stores play in students' lives. Questions to consider in the discussion might include:
  1. Do you shop at Wal-Mart, K Mart, Target, (or whatever the nearest chain department store is)?
  2. Do you think teenagers have a reasonable chance of being hired at the store?
  3. If the students know someone who is employed at the store, are they treated fairly as employees? (Are they paid a fair wage, do they get adequate benefits, etc.?)
  4. Do they know of any instance where the store has been a "good member of the community" (for example, do they donate to local charitable causes, do they support schools, and so on)?
  5. Do they think the chain store has had a negative impact on local business? Do any students have information about family members who have been impacted negatively by the location of a store in their area?
  6. Any other questions the teacher might develop or that might come up during the discussion.
Once the teacher has concluded the discussion, the class can view STORE WARS. The teacher will want to have the students look for specific instances where information is given about the impact (either negative or positive) of Wal-Mart or other big-box stores on a community. Some suggested points in the program include:
  • From 5:30 - 6:30 in the program, the size and value of the Wal-Mart Corporation and stores is discussed.

  • From the 13:10 to 16:25 point in the program, Al Norman (founder of "Sprawl Busters") discusses the negative impact of Wal-Mart in a community, while Wal-Mart officials discuss the long-term positive influence of a store in a community.

  • At the 19:25 mark in the program to the 22:30 mark in the program, Mayor Herbert and a council member travel to Tappahannock to discuss the impact of the Wal-Mart store there with a local building supply business owner, while a business owner in Warrenton, Va., discusses the "loss of personal service" local businesses provide when big-box stores move in and force small stores out.

  • At the 36:30 point in the program, employment at the proposed Wal-Mart store is discussed, and the narrator notes the number of persons employed by Wal-Mart and how Wal-Mart defines "full time" employees. In addition, the program notes the amount of turnover Wal-Mart has in its workforce yearly.

  • At 38:00, Sharon McKinley discusses the good Wal-Mart has done for her family, as an employer as well as a convenience when she shops.

  • At the conclusion of the program (55:00), the narrator speculates on the amount of business and money the Ashland Wal-Mart is expected to bring in.
Once the students have viewed the tape, the teacher passes out information forms for students. The teacher will probably elect to have students work in pairs or teams for this activity.

The information form is designed to help students understand the impact of a large retail chain on a community and its workforce. However, teachers should consider the feelings of the community and students regarding use of a form that asks driving questions about the impact of one of the community's largest employers for example, or a store that recently has forced a student's parent to close a business. If the teacher feels comfortable in administering the information form locally, then copies can be distributed.

One recommendation regarding the form would be for students to contact the store for some of the more basic information, including when the store opened, number of employees, starting salary of employees, etc. Students might also, however, do some digging on the Internet or in back issues of newspapers from the community to determine other information, such as whether there were protests against the store opening, or how many businesses (if any) in the community have closed their doors since the big-box store opened.

It is also recommended that teachers require students to "cite" sources they utilize, whether they personally interview store management or employees or use resources such as the Internet or newspapers to find information.

The teacher should allow adequate time for students to complete their research, and then ask students to either report on their findings in class, or perhaps submit information either in a poster or in a spreadsheet that will include all the information sheet data.

Still another suggestion on how collected information can be displayed would be to have students use multimedia software such as Power Point or Hyperstudio to create a presentation of their particular store.

The teacher can determine to what extent students should create a multimedia presentation. Suggestions for information to include are:
  1. Pictures (either with a digital camera or scanned) of the local business community
  2. Pictures of the big-box store
  3. Pictures of closed businesses
  4. A short history of the big-box company
  5. Statistics gathered in the student investigation using the "Store Information Form"
  6. Any sound files or "special effects" related to the multimedia software the teacher feels enhances the presentation
  7. Any other information the teacher feels appropriate for the assignment
5. Method of assessment:

The method of assessment of the project may change depending on what format the teacher wants students to use in compiling the information. For example, the teacher will want to develop a rubric if multimedia presentations are used. An example of a basic Power Point assessment rubric.

Should the teacher use another format for compiling the information from the student forms, the rubric may be adapted for that purpose.

6. Author Bio:

Michael Hutchison is a social studies teacher at Lincoln High School in Vincennes, Indiana. He has been recognized nationally for his use of cable television technology in the classroom, and has been recognized as a "Champion Teacher" by Cable in the Classroom. He has contributed several lessons featured on PBS Web pages, and is a member of the PBS TeacherSource Advisory Group.

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