Let them come
Wal-Mart wants to open stores in blighted urban neighborhoods, and I say, let them. I'm no fan of the megachain's cut-throat business practices and Dickensian employment policies, but I have to think a Wal-Mart, where low-income city residents would have a place to buy groceries, get prescriptions filled and even find a job, is a hell of a lot better than a crumbling, graffiti-covered building or garbage-strewn vacant lot.
Wal-Mart wants to burnish its reputation, and soften opposition, by giving money and other forms of support to businesses in the neighborhoods in which it opens plans to open stores. Good. Inner-city neighborhoods are often starved for private investment. Cities should take whatever Wal-Mart is willing to give.
What city officials must not do is to succumb to the temptation to offer Wal-Mart any kind of subsidy or tax break to entice them to come into urban neighborhoods. Communities across the nation have given the retail giant subsidies and incentives totaling more than $1 billion over the past 20 years, according to at least one study. As I discussed here, government development policies like these are to blame for the loss of our Main Street business districts, not Wal-Mart.
So I, for one, would welcome Wal-Mart into American cities, including Pittsburgh--as long as they are digging into their own wallets, and not reaching, with the help of elected officials, into mine.