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Another View: Wal-Mart or Costco? Developer’s mum, so cast your vote

Another View
By: Tony Hazarian, publisher, Auburn Journal
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For a moment, put the vehicle access issues, neighborhood traffic concerns and environmental questions about the Bohemia retail project off to the side and ask yourself: What type of “big box” retail store fits in North Auburn along Highway 49? Should it be a Wal-Mart, Costco, Lowe’s or another six-figure square-foot building with a sea of parking spaces? “Wait a minute,” I hear you say. “I don’t really get to decide what store is built on the developer’s property, do I?” No, you don’t, but wouldn’t it be interesting to know how you line up with your Auburn-area neighbors? Remember, this is California, where we vote on just about everything. Just a couple of years ago, Californians approved rules for confining farm animals and a $10 billion bond for a bullet train between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Are we eating less chicken or riding to Disneyland in style? I don’t think so, but it’s nice to think we could. As currently planned, the Bohemia retail project is a 19-acre site in North Auburn zoned for commercial retail use. The developer, Jim Conkey, would like to see a 155,000-square-foot retail building constructed there, although he’s not saying who the prospective tenants might be. The main brands being mentioned so far — Wal-Mart and Costco — mean different things to different people. Some see both as the devil incarnate, bringing nothing but traffic, crime and vice to a community. Others wished there was room for both, merging Wal-Mart’s “always low prices” theme with Costco’s volume discounts. It’s my guess the majority favors one brand over the other. So, let’s assume the Bohemia proposal passes muster with the Placer County Planning Commission and gets the needed votes from the county Board of Supervisors. Further, the proposal withstands likely legal challenges, and a store is imminent. Wal-Mart or Costco: Which store gets your vote? Log on to Auburnjournal.com and cast your vote (see poll, below). Results are tabulated immediately, and you can post comments if you’re a registered member of our site. Lowe’s? While I have no knowledge the North Carolina home-improvement chain has designs on Auburn, its national strategy of locating stores near Home Depot adds a little spice to the ballot. From my chats with people around town, I get the sense Wal-Mart and Costco would draw raves and rants. Wal-Mart, known for its aggressive pricing, is said to save working families some $2,500 a year in clothing, household items and groceries. It was named the most innovative retail company of 2010 by Fast Company magazine for its “sustainability index,” which requires suppliers to disclose its climate impact in competing for shelf space. Wal-Mart has also been criticized for its labor practices in U.S. stores and with overseas suppliers, for barring unions and harming small business — although studies vary greatly on its economic impact on communities. Costco, meanwhile, is a membership-based store that small businesses seem to favor for volume product purchases, and its perception as a less-competitive threat. That, however, has changed as Costco has expanded its product line into fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, tires, furniture, financial services and more. The majority of Costco stores are not unionized, and non-supervisor positions range from $11 to $20 per hour. Costco workers have a much higher rate of health insurance, compared to Wal-Mart and Target. Wal-Mart has 855,598 Facebook fans; Costco has 112,291, although a companion site promoting Costco’s legendary “free samples” program has an additional 243,915 fans. While I don’t expect the volume of voting to rival the social media giant, I would expect many of you have been waiting to cast this ballot. Power to the people. ------------------------- Log on to Auburnjournal.com, locate the poll on the home page and cast your vote. Registered members can provide comments on the poll, or on this column.