Wal-Mart Always Plays the Villain.

     Local Barber Patrick Watkins has an unconventional view of Wal-Mart.

     Unlike most Athens residents that tend to disapprove of Wal-Mart Watkins believes it is a great idea.

     “I think a Wal-Mart is a great idea, there are no jobs here, and that’s what we need.” Watkins said.

     For the past year the plans to build a new Wal-Mart near the downtown area in Athens have been underway and met with a lot of scrutiny from the local people.

     Concerns of low wages, healthcare options, and mistreatment of workers have plagued the company for years and these concerns are no different in the Athens area.

     It is always easy to blame a collapse of small town economy on the local Wal-Mart that might come into town. It is easy to blame loss of local markets on the villain that is Wal-Mart.

     However, many people believe that Wal-Mart will be beneficial for the Athens area, and will make the area thrive instead of wilt.

     Selig Enterprises has been planning a 200,000 square foot commercial space between East Broad street and Oconee streets which will include a 90,000-95,000 “square-foot big-box” which will be the new downtown Wal-Mart, According to the Online Athens Banner Herald.

     Wal-Mart is the world’s largest retailer, and is the largest corporation and private employer in the United States according to their website. 

     Local Athens residents have been concentrating on the negative aspects of Wal-Mart coming to the downtown area such as taking business from local retailers and ruining the current culture and charm of the downtown area.

     There have been several local social groups that have rallied against the Wal-Mart for these reasons. Just days after Wal-Mart was announced a petition against the Wal-Mart received more than 4,000 signatures, according to the Georgia Politico website.

     Athens residents have not been very understanding of the good that a Wal-Mart might bring to the area as well. Athens is one of the poorest counties in the nation with an unemployment rate of 6.8% according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

     One of the main concerns of the new Wal-Mart downtown would be that it would only hire students and not lend itself to the needs of other struggling individuals in the Athens area.

     Wal-Mart spokesperson Bill Wertz addressed this issue and said, “In Georgia Wal-Mart generally pays $12.48 per hour (Minimum Wage in Georgia is $7.25) and hires both entry level positions and experienced workers.”

    “I don’t think they would hire just students or just Athenians, they would hire people who need jobs. Do you know how many people it takes to run a Wal-Mart?” Watkins asked.

     The answer to Watkins question; Wal-Mart employs 2.1 million full time employees according to AOL’s Daily Finance.

     “I know a lot of people that would happily work at Wal-Mart” Bernard Anderson, another local barber said. “People need jobs.”

     Local Athens people understand that jobs are needed in the area and Wal-Mart might just be pinpointed as a villain to the area because of past issues with the company.

     Caterpillar, Another large company has recently chosen Athens as its new equipment plant. The plant that will be near Athens will build smaller tractors and excavators and employ 1,400 people in the next 5 years, according to the Caterpillar website.

     There has not been as much hostility towards the equipment company as Wal-Mart. Local barbers Walker and Anderson also agrees that this will help Athens residents that are struggling financially.

     “Caterpillar will be a good look for Athens I’m really excited about it.” Walker said.

     While Caterpillar has not had as many scandals as the Wal-Mart has they are still bringing jobs to the area and might put some local venders of equipment distribution out of business. However, this issue has not come to the forefront of news as of yet.

     The Athens Chamber of Commerce supports the new Wal-Mart development downtown. Doc Eldridge the current president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce said, “It is a good development.”

     The downtown Wal-Mart will be the largest private sector development in Athens history according to Eldridge. “I believe the market responds to demands. In this case, there is a demand for a Wal-Mart downtown.”

     Athens is a unique town for the fact that there are so many different types of people that live here. There is the University that has students that are in need of a place that provides cheep food and clothes for their budgets and then there are families who are in need of those same things.

     There are already two Wal-Mart’s in the Athens area, one on each side of town but a central Wal-Mart would benefit and serve more people.

     “It is like those that say there are too many bars and clubs in downtown Athens. If there is a market for it, the bars and clubs will open if they are not successful, they will close.” Eldridge said.

     There is a demand in the Athens area for stores that provide cheep alternatives for anything and everything that Wal-Mart sells.

     Wal-Mart is often seen as a Villain when it comes into local retailers but people should stop and consider the positives that Wal-Mart’s bring such as more jobs in an n area that desperately needs them. 

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