“…they paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” – Joni Mitchell, “Big Yellow Taxi”
Over 100 years ago, the skyline of Fall River was riddled with majestic smokestacks from textile mills that employed thousands of people of all backgrounds that made the city the top producer of textiles in the world. The mills were powerful entities, or meccas, that symbolized a city. Fall River’s candle burned brightly back then, a paradise in industrial terms. However, in the decades that followed, the candle began to dim as the mills slowly started to disappear from the skyline by either great conflagrations or for greener pastures down south. In their place today another powerful entity is to be built that will again symbolize a city: a Super Wal-Mart.
The recent news of a new Super Wal-Mart to be constructed on the former site of the Quaker Fabric mill on Brayton Avenue has spurred debate on whether this is good for the city or not. Many see the sorely needed new 100 jobs Wal-Mart will provide as good for Fall River, and they would be right given the city’s high unemployment rate, but to those thinking that the new Wal-Mart is a sound idea for the city in the long term, think again.
Conventional wisdom says that Wal-Mart destroys small local businesses that can’t compete with it, but economic professor Russell Sobel of West Virginia University says it’s a myth that is not necessarily true in a US News and Report article from August of 2008. It should be noted that his studies were on small businesses whose items were not direct competition with those of Wal-Mart, such as restaurants and art galleries. Not included in the data of the study were those businesses that were closed down that went head to head with Wal-Mart such as K-Mart. Fall River has many small businesses that sell similar items like Wal-Mart, and in the city’s fragile economic market and climate, it’s not good news for the locals.
You also need to consider the nature of the jobs Wal-Mart offers. When you had worked in a mill, you actually made something. Fall River mills produced, while at Wal-Mart you will only serve. The textile industry has long been dead and is not coming back, so we need to invest in businesses and industry where we can produce and earn a livable wage. Fall River needs to see the bigger picture when it comes to sustainable jobs for a sustainable future, not knee jerk, short-term solutions and fixes.
The Wal-Mart endeavor will also cause a problem for the Harbor Mall and its future. When the Super Wal-Mart opens at the end of 2012, the current one at the Harbor Mall will close and move to the new location. What happens then? Wal-Mart has provided life-support for the mall since it opened, and it (the mall) cannot sustain itself with the current businesses there. This opens up a slew of questions that need to be addressed: “Will the mall be razed?”, “What will be put in its place?” and “What will happen to the displaced employees?”
A different question that begs to be asked is why the Karam’s and FROED settled for a Super Wal-Mart when they could have put anything on that land? Why not a new business or industry where you can earn a good pay and re-establish a thriving economy in Fall River? The “Crossroads at 24” as the site is called, will easily be spotted for all the passing motorists driving to the Cape, Boston, Newport or Providence to see, where a new Super Wal-Mart could be interpreted as Fall River’s white flag. It’s as if the city has settled for mediocrity from top to bottom, and as long as we settle for less this city will not survive.
In the late 1800’s, the ruling oligarchy comprised of the Borden’s, Durfee’s and Buffington’s built up and put Fall River on the map by creating and producing jobs of industry. Now, the current Establishment has been given a chance to rebuild the city into something special again, and their answer is a Super Wal-Mart. I wonder what the Borden’s or Durfee’s would have thought about something like a Wal-Mart on the site of one the building blocks that had made Fall River great.
Fall River, which has prided itself on its rich history and hard work, has in fact lost its way. The actions of our current leadership recall the adage, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”, just that I didn’t know that the intentions were in the form of a conglomerate empire.
With our leaders apparently not serving in the best interest of the city and a fair portion of its own people settling for less, I’m beginning to think maybe Fall River’s candle doesn’t deserve to be rekindled and should stay snuffed out permanently, but I know better than that as I search for a match.