Big box or Mom-and-pop stores? What type of development do you want to see in York?

For one magnificent summer, I lived within walking distance of a Trader Joe’s food store.

I’d load up my backpack with low-priced snacks, fruit, veggies and the hallmark Two-Buck Chuck — a $2 bottle of wine. It was glorious.

I dream that a Trader Joe’s will one day land in York County, but when it comes to other chains — from restaurants to clothing stores — I usually root for their demise in favor of mom-and-pop joints and local businesses.

But Slate writer argued in a recent article that we’re winning the war on poverty, in part, because of those big box stores that I so detest. Those chains are “exactly the kind of development most likely to benefit the poor,” he said.

And when I stop to think about it, it’s true that while I love my local eats, my (tight) budget loves when I buy in bulk at larger chains.

In York, 35.5 percent — more than one-third — of the population lives below the poverty line. So, as one segment of city residents call for more corridors of local entrepreneurs, like on North Beaver Street, another might benefit from an inner-city Wal-Mart.

What do you think? Is there room for a big box chain in the downtown?

Weigh in: What type of development do you think we need within city limits? What effect do you think big box stores would have on the downtown?


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10 Responses to Big box or Mom-and-pop stores? What type of development do you want to see in York?

  1. Ron Lemen says:

    What York really needs is to attract more income to the area and keep the money that’s already here, in the county………..a Costco and a PF Changs restaurant. We drive to Lancaster for the great value Costco offers. When my family dines out, we usually travel out of the county because there is far more diversity from Lancaster on east. If we want pizza, York is fine. If York county residents continue to live with the attitude that because 35.5% of the county lives below the poverty line, therefore we can not offer quality……the money that is here will just be spent elsewhere. Additionally, a retail establishment like Costco would employ hundreds of people at career wages and be a positive force in the community.

  2. Darlene says:

    York was at one time a very nice area to live and visit I believe if my memory serves me, it went downhill when Mayor Elizabeth Marshall took office and thought she was making it pretty, unfortunately the looks of the city were the least of its problems. Landlords were allowed to let building’s waste away with no fines whatsoever and eventually everyone else joined in, along with low income housing which made it very easy for people that could care a less about York as a whole, to move in and create their own little world.
    I would love to see York City brought back to its once amazing glory with the limitations on housing and toss those would be landlords out and fix up what we once visited! Years ago my parents owned a gas station, and I mean many years and we would have travelers from all over the map come in to see beautiful Pennsylvania and its quaint little towns. These strangers from other places far and wide would comment on how beautiful the streets were and so well landscaped and sadly that is no more! I would love to be the Mayor of York or maybe even a journalist at the paper to wake people up to what we once had and lost it over trying to be a bigger better city!
    I would love to see the beautiful, historical land, we once called York! Where people cared about one another, children played without worrying about being kidnapped or shot and guns were not needed! Lets keep the mom and pop stores alive and send Corporate America to NY where they are willing to handle the chaos and take our City back!!

  3. David Dietz says:

    Big box stores may be more affordable for low income consumers, but they pay low wages, forcing taxpayers to subsidize their workers with food stamps, LIHEAP, etc. They also drain money from the local economy and send profits out of the community. Locally owned businesses reinvest in the community, with business owners living, shopping, paying taxes in the community. Also, locally owned businesses are more likely to give to local charitable causes. The bargain of the big box is fleeting and temporal, with long-term negative impacts. And let us not downplay the cultural importance of local uniqueness. When every Main Street in the land is an equally bland procession of chain establishments, the souls of individual communities have been sacrificed upon the altar of global zombie capitalism.

  4. Matt says:

    If I’m not mistaken, Matt Yglesias was pointing out that the methodology used to calculate the poverty line is deeply flawed. And I don’t think he was arguing that big box stores alleviate poverty. If anything, advances in food supply and production are more likely to have an impact on poverty deltas over time, even acknowledging Yglesias’ claim that the metric is not suitable for comparisons over time.

    The reality is that big box chains siphon significant amounts of money out of the York region. Accounting, legal, marketing, and other services would be demanded less. To replace them, we’d see an influx of jobs which pay so low that the government subsidizes income beyond wages (Walmart acknowledges and encourages this, training their employees to sign up for such benefits). The reality is that a fine-grained local economy has more redundancy, more self-reliance, and higher quality of life for York residents.

    Would a Walmart be the worst thing ever? Probably not. But it would likely not be a net positive for York.

  5. Skyler Yost says:

    Yglesias and others have been peddling this idea for a long time now, but study after study has shown that what communities gain from big box developments like Walmart is a temporary increase in the quantity and/or quality of goods they can buy, but that in the long term big national chains reduce the incomes of the surrounding community.

    Let me explain it like this: Walmart comes in with one store (or, in the case of York, a theoretical third store on North Beaver) and provides all the goods that many local stores would provide, but Walmart is able to do it at prices lower than anybody else and those local stores are unable to compete. After putting your neighbors out of business and your other neighbors who worked at those stores out of work, Walmart becomes the only supplier of all the stuff the local community needs. Prices are lower now, so people can afford more, but that is a temporary benefit. In the long run, money spent at Walmart leaves the local community at a higher rate than money spent at a locally-owned small business: Walmart’s profits go to the Arkansas bank accounts of the world’s richest family who will never spend any of it in our community, while local profits go to a local community member who shops at other local businesses. Walmart’s goods are sourced from the cheapest places possible around the world, while local businesses sell more local goods including farm produce and locally made products. Walmart uses a their own corporate lawyers, accountants, marketers, architects…any business service you can think of is either consolidated within their own company and based in Arkansas, or its done by the best contractors in New York, London, or Hong Kong, while local businesses create an environment in which local professional services can exist in large enough numbers in York to support a thriving middle class. Local businesses invest more time and money into community organizations like Access York, the York Rescue Mission, or any of the numerous places of worship in York than Walmart and other national corporate giants do. Finally, and worst of all, Walmart almost always gets some kind of local government subsidy to set up a new store in a community, while locally-owned small businesses rarely do…and even after we pay for Walmart to bless us with their new location, they’re model is so profitable that on average the behemoth corporation breaks even on new buildings in about 7 years and can just walk away!

    The way to poverty alleviation lies in reducing the barriers that stop locals from starting their own businesses which in turn will result in less of the existing community’s wealth slowly being siphoned out of York by obscenely wealthy chain companies and instead allow that wealth to gradually build. The City of York already has enough problems with its population not having pathways to sustained prosperity. Low-cost chain stores are a temporary fix that cause longterm dependency and further reduce our ability to achieve economic resilience.

  6. Nathaniel Hood says:

    I think it is quite clear which type of development York needs to lean towards; that being more compact, urban and walkable development. However, the question at hand is arguably the wrong one. Having “big box” or corporate chains does not mean they cannot be participants in a downtown; nor does it mean they can’t exist in unison with smaller, family-owned businesses. I think that York needs to concentrate more specifically on not necessarily the business entity, but more so where are the businesses located.

  7. I personally believe that York needs to develop downtown industrial space to bring business back to the city. Boutique shops are great but York has no plan to bring any large companies within the city limits. Expanding the focus from the couple of blocks with the Central Market and a couple of beer bars would help as well. I go downtown to shop but that means swinging into The York Emporium and getting groceries at the near empty Penn st Market. York needs to stop focusing on getting suburban shoppers into some bars near the square and focus on helping the City of York in its entirety become something better.

  8. Wal-Mart released their earnings this week and noted that their disappointing revenue figures were largely because of cutbacks in public assistance programs. Yes, low wage Wal-Mart employees need government assistance which, in turn, they spend on the low cost stuff at Wal-Mart. Something seems broken there.

    Also with this earnings release is speculation that Wal-Mart will be closing hundreds of stores across the U.S. Those are hundreds of communities where local businesses were driven out by the subsidized Wal-Mart Goliath that will not be without anything. And any community looking to this model for prosperity is not aware of where the market is at on these things.

    National chains are often a necessary evil and are not uniformly bad. That being said, “not bad” is a long ways from optimum. Anytime you can keep profits within the community, that community is going to be net better off than one where that wealth is sucked out.

    The (endangered) merchant class is the backbone of any local economy. An embrace of the big box strategy wipes out this group and replaces them with night managers and other wage positions that do not build wealth.

    There is no community that has experienced long term prosperity as a result of big box stores. There are communities that have had short term gains and there are others where the strength of the local economy has overcome the impact of big box stores (retail as a social amenity) but few can export that much wealth over the long term and hope to prosper from it.

    And if this is being considered as a way to help the poor….go ask those Wal-Mart workers how much it helps them that prices at Wal-Mart are nice and cheap.

  9. I love these type of discussions. Not only will there be a diversity of answers but there is a bit of truth in each of the responses. As a developer in the City of York, I find it very interesting the number of opportunities that York has that are still untapped and waiting to be optimized. In each sector, small business development; market-rate/affordable/low-income housing; infrastructure improvement; local and county government; all of these sectors have yet to be fully taken advantage of: in a way that is not exploitative but merely bringing the full potential out of these opportunities. The juxtaposition of BIG box vs Mom and Pop is so vast that its a question that cannot be answered adequately. Lets try this: THEY BOTH CAN EXIST TOGETHER. With the understanding that one needs the other. If you don’t offer both options, there will be a continuing trend of disinvestment in the City of York (or any community) that will only accelerate the amount of capital that leaves our city limits every day to places that offer “more appealing” options. What I would love to see is more Mom and Pops open in the City of York, with the assistance of a repayable small business development fund. Just my thoughts.. Love the feedback.. Great topic..

  10. Hannah Sawyer says:

    Thanks for all the thoughtful discussion everyone! Great comments.

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