The People Make Lemonade

A story like this one puts into practice everything that’s great about the Commons. If you’ve driven around America – especially middle America – you’ve likely seen an empty Wal-Mart building. It’s the follow through that is missing in capitalism. In capitalism today, you are rewarded if you use something up and leave as an eyesore on the landscape. If the citizens are lucky, the eyesore isn’t leaching toxicity into their land and water.

This quote from McAllen, Texas native (from LATimes article):

“In a city like McAllen, with cartel violence across the river (less than 10 miles away from the library), I think it’s amazing that the city is devoting resources to a) not only saving a large and conspicuous piece of property from decline and vandalism, but b) diverting those resources into youth and the public trust,” Ramirez writes. “It’s easy to fall into drugs, drinking, and violence when you live on the border. It’s not really easy to find a place to hang out when you’re 14 that’s not the mall, the movies, or Mexico. And a giant library — a cool-looking open space devoted to entertaining the imagination? Well, I think that’s the best counter-move against violence imaginable. And you don’t even have to wait for a computer now.”

The new McAllen Public Library opened in December 2011; after it had been open for just a month, new user registration increased by 23%.
Part of the loop of sustainability and stewardship needs to be a plan – that must be part of the business model – that considers the waste stream a product generates, no matter whose hands it ends up in, regardless if it is a syrofoam noodle or an empty Wal-Mart shell. We know Wal-Mart leaves these monstrosities in the path to small town consumer domination, why can’t they be assessed the bill for putting the land back to its original natural state, or helping out with a few more libraries. If Wal-Mart is the culture of choice as a people, then we need to keep the pressure on Wal-Mart.
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8 thoughts on “The People Make Lemonade

  1. Robert Malt says:

    This blog post (and the LA Times article on which it is based) is misleading. From my research, McAllen, TX is not some poor dying town that Wal-Mart abandoned. It is thriving, and is one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the US with 1.7 million people (according to Wikipedia).

    The reason there was an empty Wal-Mart at all is because Wal-Mart built a bigger store down the street to meet market demand. Here are a couple of comments posted on the LA Times website:

    “LOL. I love how this article makes it seem like McAllen is some podunk with a Walmart that failed. Actually, they built a Walmart Supercenter many times larger right next door, and McAllen has 2 Walmart supercenters and 9 in the county. Also 2 Sam’s Clubs and 3 Best Buys within city limits, not counting the entire metro area.” – Matthew Rivera

    “McAllen has had a library for over 60 years. Due to our high economic development, the city has grown rapidly over the past 10 years and now houses three libraries for our city. Although the new Wal-Mart location is the largest and most modern, the other two locations are just as pretty. Please do not perceive McAllen to be a podunk town, we have been ranked as number 3 in the city with The Best Mid-Size Cities For Jobs by Forbes Magazine, and number 1 in America’s Cleanest Cities, also by Forbes Magazine. Albeit true that violence is near, it is no different here than any other city in America. I applaud LA Times for covering this story, but please portray McAllen with the recognition it deserves- admiration, not pity.” – Joel Garza

    “”McAllen, Texas, was once home to a Wal-Mart — but no longer. When the discount superstore closed its doors, it left behind a vast empty building “but no longer”…that’s right, it’s now home to two fairly nice supercenters. Not to mention two more in adjacent Edinburg, and one in adjacent Mission. “Where Wal-Mart failed”…anti-Wal-Mart much? Eh…what should we expect from an Angelino.” – Omar Jesus Garza

    The paper had to correct its mistakes and offer the following note:
    [For the Record, 9:45 a.m. July 5: A previous version of this post said Wal-Mart had failed in the McAllen, Texas, location. The discount store remains in the community in a larger location.]

    Also, had the city not purchased the location, is it not reasonable to think that someone else wouldn’t have purchased it in this thriving community? The blog post (and article) insinuate that it would have remained empty forever…an assumption based on nothing.

    • Amy Meier says:

      No one accused McAllenn of being “podunk”. It also did not claim that Wal-Mart financially failed. We all know that Wal-Mart does not do that. It exploits the fact that towns repeatedly make the poor choice of not forcing Wal-Mart to return their used up space and blight back to some sort of usefulness.
      Another comment I got on this one was – yeah, I know how to find those buildings, just look for a Super Wal-Mart and you’ll find one of those empty buildings just a few miles away.
      Bigger isn’t always better.
      In another 10 years, maybe McAllen will really luck out and all of the SuperCenters and Sam’s Clubs will also be abandoned in lieu of even bigger Wal-Marts.
      If there are still some thriving businesses in the metro area, I guess there is still opportunity for Wal-Mart to drive them away with a race to the bottom in wages and opportunities for most of the workers in the chain. I wonder how many Wal-Mart workers in McAllen are also on foodstamps?
      Wal-Mart has failed us, just not in the way you are painting it. I drive across mid-America once or twice a year. There are A LOT of empty Wal-Mart and other big box buildings.

      • Robert Malt says:

        “…forcing Wal-Mart to return their used up space and blight back to some sort of usefulness.”

        So, with that kind of thinking, should every empty building owner be forced to implode their building, or give it away to the government or a non-profit for some other use?

        Also, who is the one advocating authoritarian force? Is it the conservative (as you so often claim), or the liberal/progressive?

        You may not like Wal-Mart, but many people do. Just because you don’t like something doesn’t mean it should be banned or outlawed. This is authoritarian thinking that is inconsistent with a free society.

  2. lokywoky says:

    @Robert Malt – there is nothing in this post that says WalMart failed. On the contrary, it merely says WalMart left an abandoned empty building behind. As it does many times. It did the same thing in North Fort Myers when it built a new Super Store there as well, moved a couple blocks down the street and left a huge empty building behind.

    The problem with WalMart’s empty buildings is that they are so large, very few businesses are able to occupy the space, and WalMart is not known for cutting deals on floor rent, nor are they known for being friendly to smaller businesses who wish to “subdivide” the space and only rent part which would require putting up walls and installing more doors (read knock some holes in the exterior walls).

    So no, it is not reasonable to think that someone else would have purchased it. The only “other” entity who could afford it would be another big box store – and most of them want a place that meets their needs – not a leftover WalMart building.

    • lokywoky says:

      In the area where the WalMart buildng I was speaking of was, the standard floor rents were $46 per square foot for retail space in nicer and newer shopping centers. WalMart wanted $49 per square foot and they would not subdivide.

    • Robert Malt says:

      The article implies that Wal-Mart failed and left town. Even the LA Times agreed that they screwed up, and updated the article to correct their admitted error.

      Wal-Mart has to pay taxes and insurance on the vacant building that is generating no revenue to pay these expenses. It makes sense for them to try to sell it. I don’t have a problem with government (or government sponsored) entities buying and refurbishing/re-purposing vacant buildings. It is usually a better use of taxpayer money than building a new facility.

      My greatest objection is the continued vilification of Wal-Mart as a business that serves the poor and middle class for the most part. Without Wal-Mart people would have to pay higher prices for many of the things they need in life. I find it most appalling that the biggest critics of Wal-Mart are often the limousine liberal types who never have to worry about stretching a paycheck.

      • lokywoky says:

        The people who are forced to shop at WalMart hate it just as bad as the so-called “limousine liberals” you denigrate. They hate that everything in there is cheap. Cheap as in poorly made, and everything in the store is from China. They are well aware that the workers are poorly paid, and that most if not all of them are also on food stamps right along with the shoppers. And they are also well aware that by shopping there, they are perpetuating the flight of their cash into the pockets of the obscenely rich Walton family, and driving the family owned businesses in their towns out of business along with the better-paying jobs those businesses once provided.

        Without WalMart, people would have better jobs and could actually afford those higher prices. Without WalMart, those other businesses would still be in business. Without WalMart, the government would not be spending so much money on Food Stamps and Medicaid because the workers would have jobs that actually paid enough money and had benefits that they wouldn’t be depending on government assistance in order to live.

        Yeah, without WalMart most communities would be much better off. Including the City/county government which is usually coerced by WalMart into giving away all kinds of tax-breaks and providing massive subsidies to this behemouth that no other business gets – all of which costs those very same poor and middle class taxpayers money.

        Thanks but no thanks.

      • Robert Malt says:

        “The people who are forced to shop at WalMart hate it…”

        #1 – Who is “forcing” people to shop at Wal-Mart?

        #2 – Please provide evidence that all or even most people who shop there “hate it”. I shop there and do not hate it. I have been able to buy things for my family that I might not otherwise have purchased (due to the cost).

        Producing and distributing goods and services more efficiently is good for people. This is a classic case of the seen and the unseen. You see the local business go out of business and lay off people because Wal-Mart out competes them. What you don’t so easily see are the savings and improvement in the quality of life of people that are able to buy more for less, or buy something that they wouldn’t have been able to afford at all.

        If you want to more fully understand how economics really works, you should read Economics In One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt. It fully and completely addresses and debunks the faulty economic assertions that you make. I have a copy to lend, if you are interested.

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