Taking Aim at the Big-Box Economy

May 1, 2008

Today’s guest blog is by Stacy Mitchell, author of the highly recommended book

Big-Box Swindle

and a keynote speaker at our


next week.


wants your rebate check


So does Home Depot.

But spending it at a big-box store will only further gut the U.S. economy.

As these companies expand, they continue to decimate two pillars of the middle class: small business owners and unionized manufacturing workers.

In exchange for all the family-supporting livelihoods they take away, the chains leave us with nothing but very low-paying jobs working in their stores.

It's a raw deal and a vicious cycle of ever-widening working poverty.

Yet cities continue to welcome, and often subsidize, the construction of more big-box retail.

This is not economic development.

It's more like economic colonialism.


show that only about 14 cents of every dollar spent at a big-box store stays in the local community —compared to about 50 cents of a dollar spent at a locally owned business.

The chains manage this feat of wealth-extraction by keeping local payroll to a brutal minimum, requiring none of the local services (such as banking, printing, accounting, etc.) that independent retailers need, and carrying virtually no products produced or grown anywhere near the store.

Perhaps most disturbing of all, the rise and continued growth of mega-retailers have been driven in large part by public policy:

Billions of dollars in

development subsidies

for big-box stores



tax loopholes

that favor chains over local businesses.

Diminished rights for workers and communities.

Transportation and planning policies that mandate sprawl.

An utter failure to


antitrust laws


And the list goes on.

Fortunately, there's a growing and increasingly effective

grassroots movement

to withdraw government backing for big retailers and build an economy that supports the common good.

These are a few of the successes so far:

Arizona passed a bill

last year that bars subsidies for big-box stores and shopping centers.


states have eliminated a major tax advantage for chains

and more are weighing legislation now (including





Maine recently enacted a landmark law

requiring economic impact studies for retail development.

But perhaps the biggest success of all was that every one of these victories was made possible by exciting, and potentially powerful, new coalitions among

independent business alliances

and labor and environmental groups.

I’ll be talking about these exciting developments at next week's Good Jobs First


— a great forum for building and expanding these ties.