If the petty tyrants of Heber City, Utah have their way on Election Day, Wal-Mart won’t be coming to town.
Aghast when the city council voted last April to allow “big box” retail stores as large as 150,000 square feet to establish business in Heber City, a group called Put Heber Valley First launched a petition drive and successfully put the zoning issue on the ballot. Even though the ordinance doesn’t specifically mention Wal-Mart, everyone knows limiting the size of retail stores to 60,000 square feet will effectively stall the retail giant’s proposed supercenter on the south end of town.
Supporters of limiting the size of retail stores claim a Wal-Mart will intrude upon the “local flavor” of the community, bring crime and traffic and put local stores out of business. Their claims aren’t new or unique; rather, they’re the tired and trite arguments of activists who haven’t realized that, for the most part, having a Wal-Mart is an asset to the city and surrounding communities by bringing more competition, jobs and an economic boost to the area.
Despite their concern about what would happen to Heber City and existing businesses, the voter referendum is nothing more than a chance for a handful of vocal residents to act like petty tyrants who don’t like the retailer or change, to deny Wal-Mart the right to compete.
Most residents of Heber City want a Wal-Mart. And you don’t need a poll to prove it. Despite the city’s tremendous population growth, retail sales are flat. Many Heber residents are refusing to support local businesses and are taking their dollars elsewhere by driving 20 miles to Park City or 25 miles to Orem to shop at – surprise! – Wal-Mart and other retailers where business is booming. Estimates have put the outflow of resident’s shopping money to surrounding retailers at nearly $100 million.
And who can blame them? The decision of many residents to drive over 20 miles to find some decent shopping shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s visited Heber City. Though it has a “small town” feel, it also lacks obvious and convenient places to shop. In fact, there are only a handful of chain stores in the entire town. Wal-Mart would simply give Heber residents and visitors an alternative – one that many would gladly welcome not only for the competition it would bring to this community but also for the convenience.
A retailer should be allowed to succeed based on the votes of people’s pocketbooks instead of the ballot box. If the proposed Wal-Mart store is built, residents will simply be given another choice where they can shop. If enough people feel that supporting local stores is important, those businesses will thrive and Wal-Mart will close its doors.
But the freedom to choose is something the petty tyrants of Heber City don’t believe in. Instead, they’d rather force every resident of this town to live in what they consider to be the ideal town, even if that means forcing others to drive long distances to shop for less expensive groceries and other items.
The “local flavor” the Put Heber Valley First people support is that of inconvenience and tyranny. Heber City residents would be wise to allow the free market to function.