Local Coalition Meets to Discuss Wal-Mart Opposition
A group of a about 15 local organizations and a group of residents met in East Somerville Wednesday night to discuss Wal-Mart's potential plans to bring a grocery store to Assembly Square.
At a meeting Wednesday night, a group of residents and community organizers spoke out against a Wal-Mart grocery store that is potentially coming to Somerville's Assembly Square.
A group of local organizations, banded together under the name The Somerville Coalition for a Responsible Walmart, hosted the meeting.
Based on the meeting's outcome, the purpose of the gathering was to start a discussion about Wal-Mart's plans in Somerville and set in motion efforts to organize a possible opposition to the store.
The potential Wal-Mart would move into the old Circuit City building in Assembly Square, near Home Depot, and it would be a grocery store, not a giant-sized Wal-Mart retail store, which is the kind of Wal-Mart most people are familiar with.
At Wednesday night's meeting, a number of speakers voiced concerns with Wal-Mart, criticizing the company's labor practices, health care policies, effect on local businesses and environmental impact.
Joe Grafton, of Somerville Local First, an organization that promotes local businesses in the city, suggested this won't be the last time Wal-Mart eyes Somerville and neighboring communities for a store. "The last place domestically Wal-Mart can grow is in our cities," he said.
He said when the company moved into parts of Chicago, it was devastating for local businesses. He also cautioned against Wal-Mart's "well oiled PR machine" that would argue the company provides jobs in tough economic times. For every two jobs Wal-Mart creates, Grafton said, three jobs disappear from the local economy.
In addition to Grafton, the speakers at Wednesday's meeting included Rosemary Park from the Somerville Community Corporation, Maureen Barillaro from Somerville Climate Action, Molly Baskette, pastor at First Church Somerville and Celia Segel from Health Care for All. Kimberly Quartimon, a former Wal-Mart employee who works with an organization called OUR Walmart, flew in from Seattle just for the meeting.
Around 60 people attended the event, and most of those in attendance were openly against the idea of Wal-Mart coming to Somerville.
Barillaro, who spoke about Wal-Mart's environmental and sustainability efforts, said Wal-Mart, the world's biggest company, is trying to make a possitive difference in the environment, but "perhaps the biggest difference Wal-Mart can make in Somerville is by not coming here at all." The line earned applause.
"I don't think this company … fits with our community. I don't want Wal-Mart to come here," said Rand Wilson, a Somerville resident and union organizer. "Let's be real. We don't want this company in our town."
Part of the meeting involved a discussion about strategy: Should the group oppose Wal-Mart outright, or should it work to impose conditions on the store if it comes to Somerville. The group discussed what would be the best mechanism for imposing conditions, whether it would be zoning codes or some sort of covenant with the city, for instance.
Mark Niedergang, who's a member for the Somerville School Committee, said Somerville is an "unusual" community in that "we're a very strong labor community, and we're a very strong progressive community." As a result of this dynamic, "I actually think we have a shot at beating this thing," he said. The city should "assess the type of power we have to fight it."
Somerville Alderman At-Large William White attended the meeting, but did not take a position on the potential Wal-Mart, in part because the store has not yet requested a permit from the city's planning board. At the moment, "There's nothing specific to comment on," he said.
Because Wal-Mart would be moving into an existing commercial building, all it needs is approval from the planning board, he said, and the matter would not be voted upon in the Board of Aldermen.
Speaking Nov. 3 after an unrelated event in Assembly Square, Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone was somewhat noncommittal about Wal-Mart's plans to start a grocery store in the area, "We don't have a proposal before us [yet,]" he said.
"As a concept, we're intrigued," he said, because the city envisions a grocery market in Assembly Square. "They're free to file for a permit," he said, and "we expect them to come forth with a permit."