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Wal-Mart's low prices carry a high price tag here and abroad page 3
When you think about it, the price you pay at Wal-Mart isn't so low after all.

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Date published: 2/15/2004



But in the long run, will Wal-Mart prove to be an American success story or an American nightmare? Is it really shoppers' Nirvana, or is that simply what Wal-Mart would have us believe?

Wal-Mart has become America's largest toy retailer. As a result, FAO Schwarz has shut down, Zany Brainy has filed for bankruptcy, KB Toys is closing 375 stores (including nine elsewhere in Virginia), and Toys "R" Us is reacting to the pressure by carrying more clothes and fewer toys.

Giant impact

A survey on the supercenters' impact on grocery stores suggests that two supermarkets will close every time a supercenter opens. Locally, the impact may be felt as Royal Ahold, the parent company of Giant Food, reorganizes its holdings, cuts jobs, and turns Giant into a leaner, more price-oriented chain. Ahold blames its troubles, in part, on Wal-Mart supercenters.

Drug stores feel the pinch as well when Wal-Mart pharmacies gobble up their business.

Which local stores will close when Wal-Mart opens yet another supercenter next year at Southpoint? Time will tell.

County officials applauded the company's return to Spotsylvania County after closing the Route 3 store in 2002. But will the new tax revenues be offset by the loss of business elsewhere? How about the less-visible costs of emergency-room visits by Wal-Mart employees who can't afford health insurance? How about the unemployment insurance that's paid to those put out of work by Wal-Mart?

Such costs are borne by everyone, including the low-income families who rely on Wal-Mart to stretch their dollars. The company's very existence depends on people failing to realize that, in one way or another, we all end up paying for low, low Wal-Mart prices.

What we get are fewer stores to choose from, higher insurance costs, unemployed neighbors who face the loss of their homes, and a culture that believes there's nothing more important than saving a few cents on toilet paper and light bulbs.

The richest nation in the world, and all we want are low prices and low taxes. When it finally hits home that we have a cheapened quality of life to match, we shouldn't complain.

Certainly Wal-Mart won't complain. It is supplying itself with an ever growing pool of low-income people who think they're doing themselves a favor by shopping there. And if Wal-Mart took away their jobs, they can wait in line all day.

RICHARD AMRHINE is a writer and editor with The Free Lance-Star.

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