Saturday, January 14, 2006

Workless in America

I wonder how these 58 workers feel about the "Wal-Mart is good for the world" argument today.

On the other hand, County Market didn't appear to have strong survival instincts. Back when we were fighting over distribution with outside rack companies, I wrote a stack of letters to grocery store and restaurant owners complaining about the way the matter was handled and seeking relief. Three businesses, including two grocery stores, contacted me immediately. County Market never responded. Not one word.

Of course, I'm just one guy. And I don't know much about the grocery business, except that margins are notoriously low, so high volume is essential. And County Market doesn't know much about me -- for all they know, I have nine kids and 36 grandkids, all breathlessly awaiting my advice on where to do their grocery shopping. Not to mention, of course, that I am the proprietor of a business that generates a few hundred thousand bucks in revenue each year and also of the wildly influential Billings Blog. So you'd think it would have been worth 37 cents (now 39 cents) to County Market to write a letter and tell me, "Tough luck, pal."

But they didn't think so, which makes me suspect that they treated a lot of other complaints the same way. And now they're closing. Not too big a surprise.

It hurts, though, when these big Outpost distribution points close. The Kit-Kat Cafe, Gibson's, the two Elmer's restaurants, Smith's -- you're talking close to a thousand papers a week right there. Some people will just pick up the paper elsewhere, of course, but not all. National chains tend to be unsympathetic to the need for a locally owned press, so as they come in, we get squeezed out.

UPDATE: Downtown Billings has been thinking about this, too.

2ND UPDATE: Comments have veered into a discussion of supermarket discount cards, so here' a link to a site that makes the case against them. I also wrote about the issue here.

3RD UPDATE: Ed at City Lights makes a good point about Good Earth Market. My wife does a lot of shopping there already, and I'm sure it will continue to get a larger share of our grocery dollar.


Short Seller said...

Resources always gravitate to their highest use in a free market. (In the financial markets, we say money moves from weak hands to strong hands.) The sale of these stores is merely an example of the real estate being put to a higher use.

Besides, this is an “employee-owned corporation,” according to the article you cited. Are you saying the employees committed suicide?

Wal-Mart was not mentioned in the article, so I fail to see why you are trying to make a connection between the demise of these stores and Wal-Wart. Or are you just obsessed with Wal-Mart and see it as the Great Evil behind all layoffs?

Anonymous said...

I'm interested in what kind of evidence you might have to point to Wal Mart closing that particular store. Or is that just your Wal Mart hating spouting coming from your mouth?

mrg said...

The Wal-Mart scenario has similarities to what is happening to Rural America as we welcome the below-cost-of-production foreign entities to import cheap goods into our borders. Production within our borders is taxed, which is essential for our tax-driven government, whether it be local, state or national! Imports are not taxed like local production and as Leo McDonald of R-Calf says: "Production creates wealth, not consumption!" and last fall the U.S. became a consuming nation for the first time in over 50 years!

Mark T said...

Interesting - ALbertsons responded to the WalMart threat by raising its prices sky high and resorting to gimmicks. They spiffied up their stores, added sensory appeal. Maybe that is the way to go. County Market had a similar response - they raised prices and instituted a points gimmick - seemed clumsy at best. The stores were drab, service lackluster. It's not a reach to speculate that WalMart took their customers - their management's response is what cost them. No creativity.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, marky you right! Ya know, some of us actually shop at Albersons BECAUSE it was a union store, and they paid their employees decent wages, and we actually KNEW the employees by name after years of shopping there! And ya want to know a secret, marko, it WASN'T the fancy schmancy stuff that made me shop there! I shopped at the old Albertons in Billings Heights for bout twenty years, and it was a great store. I don't NEED/WANT no walfart and I refuse to go in there. At least at Albertsons we weren't "greeted" by the ghoulish presence of some freeze dried, underpaid geriatric waving a bony hand at us while welcoming us to sweatshop heaven! And one other thing. All the employees at walmart are fat, obese ne'er-do-wells who scare little children and women with their jailhouse tatoos! I want the old Alberstons back!

Jim Larson said...

Dear Short Seller,

After both Wal-Mart superstores were in place, the Rimrock County Market lost roughly half of its business, and it laid off 90 of its workers. The store's manager attributed the decline directly to the Wal-Mart stores.

That, however, doesn't make Wal-Mart evil.

There are two local examples of tiny grocery operations that are thriving. Poly IGA is about to open another store, and The Good Earth Market is moving into larger digs.

Service and variety do matter. Many small businesses can't compete with the big chains because they have inconsistent customer service.

I rarely ecounter a bitchy clerk at Wal Mart, but I often did at the Smith's store in the Heights before that store closed. Also, before K-Mart closed in the Heights, it could have been renamed Surly-Mart.

That store had far better prices than Wal-Mart, but it fell within weeks of its competitor's opening.

David said...

I shopped at Albertson's until it adopted the preferred savings card. I didn't think I should have to disclose my personal shopping habits in order to do business with a grocery store.

Anonymous said...

Where you gonna shop when they ALL have cards???

Good Credit and Pissed said...

This is slightly off topic, but I'm wondering if anyone out there has ever been "carded" at Wal-Mart.

By that I mean when you charge your purchase to a major credit card and then the clerk asks to see your card and then "pretends" to compare your signature on the back of the card to your signature on the purchase reciept.

Ever have that happen to you? If so, in what Wal-Mart?

5 said...

I shop at Walmart because by doing so, I can support state sponsored and forced abortion in China, little Mung foo yuk cant come to work pregnant and the Chinese prefer couples to have fewer children.....
Im off to buy even more cheap chinese crap!

David said...

Anonymous asks, "Where you gonna shop when they ALL have cards???"

Good question, and one I've pondered. I may be buying groceries at Kwik-Way.

In the same way, I've always said I would never work for a company that requires mandatory drug testing. Not because I wouldn't pass, but because I don't think strangers have any right to fiddle around with my piss.

But where you gonna work when they all require it? At the Outpost, I hope.

Mark T said...

Who was it said "I don't shop at WalMart because I don't want to work there someday"?

Anonymous said...

David, couple'a points. First, I too stopped shopping at Albertsons when they started the card thing. But then, it became too inconvienent. And then, when I found a card lying on the ground, I said what the hell? I've been using that card ever since. So Chimpy bush has NO idea what I'm buying and when. Also, I have a good liberal friend in the grocery bizz. I asked him about the card thing. He explained that it just makes ordering crap easier. This guy wouldn't bullshiite me. So, they're probably innocuous. But I, like you, would never use one of my own.

Eric Coobs said...

It's not just COUNTY MARKET closing.

It's both KONS SOOPERS, Both SMITHS stores, K-MART/Heights, COUNTY MARKET/Heights, & Gibsons to name a few.

The SMITHS in West Park Plaza cost us 44 union jobs at that one store. In 2003 I told everybody that would listen that we needed economic development in this town instead of nice-looking flower-boxes & landscaping downtown, and I was dismissed.

When WALMART opens it's new store in Laurel, downtown Laurel will look like downtown Lovell, Wyo. looks today.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of cards - there was a man slipped on a wet floor at a grocery store, and when he asked their insurance to pay for it, they responded that they knew he regularly purchased alchohol at their store, as documented by his card, and that he was probably drunk.

Pete Hansen said...

Well, I'd already commented on this issue and felt that was enough until Rocky Smith and "Larry" poured their hearts out over the demise of Kmart, an issue of interest to me as a former Kmart stockholder. Here's some thoughts about Kmart from my perspective.
1. Kmart, the store known as "the store you can get into but can't get out of," laid off more than 20 "associates" at the Heights store as soon as the Heights Wal Mart opened.Even before that, it was hard to fnd a human in the store to ask a question.
2. Kmart's managers, especially at the upper levels continue to pull down their enormous salaries despite the fact their mismanagement resulted in the declaration of banckrupcy.
3. On at least three occasions, I brought to the Heights Kmart manager and forwarded complaints regarding their pricing, ordering and other mismanagement with a resulting literal and figurative shrugging of their shoulders indicating they didn't care.
4. Want more? How about 170 summer $15 men's shirts on sale for $2? 160 of which were small and 10 mediums. The managers's response? "The computer does our ordering."
5. While searching through stores to purchase a computer printer, I found that five stores were selling the same HP pinter for $80 while Kmart's identical product was priced at $148! Despite my bringing this to the attention of the "Electronics Manager," four weeks later, the price was the same.
6. After Wal Mart's opening, that Christmas, Kmart had a 60% off sale on left over Christmas items on December 26th. The result? Two of 15 checkstands open with 20 teeth grinding customers in each line!Finally, as to Mr. Loudmouth "Anonymous'" aka Ever sickening "Stranger," Larry's comments about the Wal Mart Greeters, I just hope you die before you find it necessary to be eligible for Wal Mart's benevolence in hiring these very nice folks and helping them enhance their meager incomes. A charity not enganged in by Albertson's, Smiths on anybody else! STICK IT IN YOUR EAR LARRY! I don't know who employs you but, I'm sure if it were not for "tenure" any other employer would have kicked you a-- out the door a long time ago. The scariest part is that your poison, like that of a spitting Cobra, may be splattered on some of our impressionable youth!

DMerriman said...

First, Albertsons does give people the option of "I don't want to ID myself" for one of their Secret Club cards. Even so, all you had to do was fill the thing in with completely bogus information to avoid having your purchases tracked in any meaningful way.
Second, there's a nice PBS/Frontline piece about how Wal*Mart bullies its suppliers; I've seen the broadcast version a couple of times, and it's also available online.
K-Mart, as a corporation, got what it deserves; that bit about 'you can get in, but you can't get back out' was entirely too true! For reasonable prices and decent service, I do most of my non-food shopping at Target.

Anonymous said...

Whoa!, petey. I didn't know that you were a greeter! Sorry bout that. Hey, I'll bet that you're not the least bit ghoulish! For you see, petey, I am a Republican all the way on this one with you. I don't think that people should EVER be allowed to retire! Especially poor people! Heck, there's things we can find for them to do so they earn their keep. Greeters at walfart, floow sweepers at Mcdonalds, etc. Why should ANYONE be allowed to retire?! And you're right! They only reason people should take time off is to die! That's what made Murca great!

David said...

But I'm not going to lie to get a grocery store discount. I save my lies for important matters -- like sex.

Pete Hansen said...

Lierry! You're going to end up a very lonely and bitter, if not already, old man. That is, if someone doesn't strangle you first. I start my day reading the obits in anticipation that reading of that event, would brighten my day and that of many others as well! The only reason I'd stop shopping at Wal Mart would be to learn that you've been hired to pass out grocery carts there.

Anonymous said...

Larry hired at Walwart? Why, he might actually have to work for a living and wouldn't be able to devote the long hours to blogging as he does now. And no summers off. Nope, can't see that happening.

Anonymous said...

Can't we all just get along? I mean, why do mean people have to disagree with Mr. Hansen? That doesn't seem right. That doesn't seem fair. How bout a nice round of Kumbaya!

Anonymous said...

I'm not old enough to be a greeter, and I don't have enough tatoos or criminal record to be a common employee! Although I'm considering putting on about a hundred pounds, gettin' myself a whole body tatoo, banging myself in the head with a blunt object until I have brain damage, voting Republican, and just generally all round meeting the requirements for sweatshop employment! For you see, my goal in life is to live long enough to be a greeter! And outlive Mr. Petite Hansen, so I can greet people with his obiturary in hand!.........and who says I don't have the vision thing!

todd said...

Pete, save your breath (or typing) regarding scarry Larry. He is a little man with a big mouth and a pea sized brain. He teaches in a private school in Great Falls. I could pity him if he wasn't so obnoxious. It must be terrible to suffer from small man's complex, have no friends, and no one to visit with. He seems to spend his days thinking of cute little names for various people and things, and derives sophomoric entertainment from his own creativity. he is a blight on the teaching profession, and an embarrassment to the Democratic party, but at least he is in Great Falls and not impacting my kids.

devon jenks said...

i done got hiered at wall mutt! is good money 2! yall dont jack shit!

Babs said...

David: Your UPDATE was very inspiring. I read that link to City Lites you posted. Ed Kemmick must be a very brave guy to go shopping at Good Earth Market. Totally awesome for a man to do that! It’s so good to hear about a man making healthy choices and caring about the environment and being socially responsible and such. Who’d believe it?

At City Lites I also read about him making his own bread. I can just see him all busy in the kitchen, wearing a gaily colored apron, his hands and cheeks dusted with flour. And then he skips over to the Good Earth Market with his little straw shopping basket made by real Navajos and checks out all the fruits.

Anonymous said...

Devon, you just GOTTA be a supervisor at WallMutt! Right? How many tatoos you got?

LaTannia said...

i all work wif devon an he be rite. butt i dun no jack shit. he mite work nites.

Pete Hansen said...

OK. Now that Wal Mart's been beat up, let's start a new and more worthy revolution, against those nasty, dirty, import selling, low wage paying, undercutting price reducing...DOLLAR STORES! Imagine, they sell something like calendars for a dollar and try to put the folks at the Mall who sell them for $12 out of business. You can buy a set of pliers or a wrench for a dollar that even Wal Mart sells for $5. They give their workers no overtime, minimum wage and no medical benefits. And worse, almost everything in those lousy low life places has a tag on it saying "China" or "Bangledesh" or some such. If we don't put a stop to this invasion of these kind of low price,price cutting underhanded businesses that even sell food for a dollar, pretty soon they'll be speading over the land (as if they hadn't already) and gobbling up Wal Mart and Target, the Mom and Pop office supply stores and everyone else! Shame! Outrage! Hmm! Guess I'm just another Wal Mart convert since, I love going to the Dollar Store. How many other of you Wal Mart protesters do the same thing? Tsk! If you're really committed to social consiousness, take back everything you've ever bought there, in protest! Heck, you even have to get your own cart or basket because those cutthroats don't even hire old people to pass them out!

Anonymous said...

Dollar stores close a lot of other stores in your town, Petite? Just wondering. Oh, by the way, how many employees do they have again?!

Anonymous said...

I'll bet that Pete can make the case that the dollar store's owners are gazillionaires who donate HUGE sums of money to the republican party too! Gee, that pete sure knows his apples from oranges, his glutues form a hole in the ground, shiite from shinola! Yep, ol pete wasn't born yesterday, that's for sure.

Bad Headache said...

Anon--Has Pete stopped buying his paint thinner from you?

Anonymous said...

Petite gets his paint at Wallmutt! He likes the cheap, Chinese kind!

Short Seller said...

There goes those high prices! Where will we find all these slave laborers?

[Fair Use Excerpt from Reuters, 01/23]

Investor group to buy Albertson's for $9.8 bln

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Struggling grocery chain Albertson's Inc. on Monday agreed to be bought by an investor group led by Supervalu Inc. for $9.8 billion in cash and stock, in a deal that will split up the company among retailers and financial buyers.

The agreement brings to a close a closely watched and complicated auction that collapsed at the last minute in late December, in part over anti-trust concerns.

The deal is a buyout opportunity for Albertson's, which has lost market share to discounters and seen its stock falter. It also marks a significant bet for Supervalu, which will shoulder most of the transaction and become the second-largest supermarket company in the United States.

Under terms of the deal, Minneapolis-based Supervalu said it would buy 1,124 stores from Albertson's for an estimated $6.3 billion in cash and stock and the assumption of $6.1 billion of Albertson's debt.

Drugstore chain CVS Corp. , for its part, will buy 700 stand-alone Sav-On and Osco pharmacies and a distribution center from Albertson's for $2.93 billion.

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