THE BLOG
11/12/2013 11:59 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Can Portlandians Starve Wal-Mart?

Is it possible to starve a Wal-Mart superstore?

Residents in Tigard, Oregon, a small suburb of Portland, want to find out. After their City Council quietly swapped a planned Target for a Wal-Mart, citizens refused to take 'done deal' as the final word.

Usually when a city approves a Wal-Mart superstore, opponents melt back into the neighborhood. But not so in Tigard. Anti Wal-Mart sentiment runs deep in this city of roughly 50,000 people, whose slogan is "A Place to Call Home."

For years, anti-sprawl activists did what they could to prevent Wal-Mart from calling Tigard home. In August of 2006, Wal-Mart proposed a 220,000 square foot superstore for Tigard -- a project which was never built. Tigard's Mayor at the time, Craig Dirksen, told The Oregonian newspaper: "I'm not happy with the idea at all. I'm opposed to the company based on what I know of the way they treat their employees, and also based on the impact that their marketing practices have on other local businesses."

One State Representative, Larry Galizio, helped organize a group called Tigard First to fight off Wal-Mart. Rep. Galizio also sent a letter to Wal-Mart officials in Arkansas saying, "The people of Tigard have legitimate concerns about this massive facility. They want to know what it will do to our traffic and our environment. They have serious worries about the impact on small businesses and local retailers, quality jobs with decent benefits and the overall quality of life in our community."

But like a cheap pair of Chinese underwear, Wal-Mart keeps creeping up on you. When Target bailed on a project in Tigard, the developer substituted another big box, and city officials apparently felt no compulsion to tell residents it was a Wal-Mart. The Arkansas-based retailer is now expected to open its doors in Tigard in the fall of 2014..

In August of 2013, Tigard First re-emerged in a "new incarnation," built a new website along with a Facebook page.

"We are a group of ordinary citizens," the group writes on its website, "who are concerned with the direction of our community. We think that by working together and giving everyone a voice, we can make Tigard a community that works for everyone."

The group meets every Monday night at the Tigard Grange. Out of those meetings was born an unusual plan to take down the Wal-Mart now under construction.

"When we launched Tigard First, we knew that something needed to be done to help mitigate the impact of Wal-Mart on the city's small businesses. One way we chose to do this was to start a boycott campaign, asking for a '1000 family pledge' to refuse to shop at Wal-Mart and to support small businesses instead. 1000 families is an ambitious goal. 1000 families will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars weekly in groceries and other goods."

As of mid-November, the group's "boycott campaign" is closing in on 300 families. Tigard First is organizing families to sign the following straightforward two sentence pledge:

"I Pledge to support Tigard's small businesses. I WILL NOT shop at the Tigard Wal-Mart, and instead I will buy at locally owned and operated businesses in the city."


According to Tigard First: "Small Businesses Are The Cornerstone Of Every Community, And Tigard Is No Different. Small Business owners are Our Friends And Our Neighbors. They support our schools, soccer and little league. And while running their Businesses, they buy goods and services from other Locally-owned businesses in the community, further supporting our local economy."

There is clearly no market need for another Wal-Mart in this trade area, which already has 10 Wal-Mart stores within 20 miles of Tigard---including 2 supercenters, 2 discount stores, and 5 Neighborhood Markets. But can the Tigard community unite enough households to turn this new superstore into what Wal-Mart would call an "underperforming unit?"

It will take a couple of years to see if Tigard can truly starve out their Wal-Mart. The fact that Tigard First has a 12 month head start to gather pledges surely casts a shadow over this place that Wal-Mart wants to call home. But once the doors open--will those pledges stick?

As Sam Walton once wrote, 'Our customers are supporting us. If they stopped, our earnings would simply disappear, and we'd all be out looking for new jobs."

Sounds like a perfect script for Portlandia.

Al Norman just marked 20 years of Sprawl-Busting. His latest book is Occupy Walmart. His website holds more than 4,000 stories about big box battles around the globe. 60 Minutes called Norman the "guru of the anti-Wal-Mart movement."