Protest Targets Wal-Mart

Tuesday December 09, 2003

A Wednesday night candlelight Holiday Vigil scheduled for the Hilltop Mall in Richmond isn’t designed so much to bring peace on earth to the Contra Costa County city as it is to keep a big-box retailer out. 

Several local politicians—including State Assemblymember Loni Hancock, Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia, Richmond Mayor Irma Anderson, and Richmond City Councilmember Rev. Charles Belcher—are expected to join the Contra Costa County Central Labor Council in a “Bringing Hope To Richmond” demonstration against the proposed Wal-Mart store at Hilltop. The vigil is scheduled to last from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Organizers are expecting up to a hundred participants. 

While Wal-Mart has announced plans to locate a retail store at Hilltop, it has denied that the location will be turned into a supercenter. Supercenters, or big-box stores, are retail stores the size of several football fields that sell groceries as well as traditional retail goods at discounted prices. They have created controversy in cities throughout the country, with charges that they have driven out smaller, locally based businesses. 

Hancock said she would attend the demonstration because “I share the concern of many people in the community about the spread of Wal-Marts. They adversely compete with local retail, they often do not pay a living wage, they do not provide health insurance. In the past, they have suggested that their employees join Healthy Families, which meant basically passing the cost of a decent standard of living for their employees to the State of California.” 

In California, the Healthy Families program is a joint federal and state project that provides low cost health care to children of low-income families who do not qualify for Medi-Cal. 

Earlier this year, Contra Costa County supervisors voted to ban supercenter stores from unincorporated areas of that county. The ban wouldn’t affect the Hilltop Mall store, and Wal-Mart has gathered enough signatures to put a referendum on the March ballot to overturn the ban. 

A Wal-Mart spokesperson told the Tri-Valley Herald that her company “believe[s] the voters will vote to repeal this ordinance, and I think that will send a message to other communities in Contra Costa that people don’t support ordinances like these. I think that our customers really appreciate the one-stop shopping where they can purchase a myriad of items right under one roof.”