Roadblock to bargains
I spent yesterday morning walking around Dudley Square in the thriving heart of Roxbury wondering when it was that capitalism and the free market came to an unceremonious end in Tom Menino’s Boston.
No big deal, it’s just I always thought people were given choices in this country - choices, among others, about how much they could spend, about what they could buy, about where they could shop.
Ends up, though, that the mayor of Boston has taken those choices away for the tens of thousands of residents of Roxbury, and he will probably do the same to other neighborhoods very, very soon.
It’s about Walmart, the store that has undoubtedly sprouted up in a suburb and small city near you. Now the company wants to break into Boston and other big cities, and was considering a new development being planned near Dudley Square, probably not for one of its megastores, but for a supermarket and pharmacy.
Menino, the mayor, growled no.
Menino has his reasons and they are, in theory, laudable. Dudley, under his reign, looks better than it has in a long time - relatively clean with businesses that seem like they’re holding it together in what has been the worst economy most of us have lived through. A brand new seafood market had a “Grand Opening’’ banner in the front window yesterday. Workmen were in the final stages of building a senior housing development. A botanical shop called the Boston Gardener looked like it could have been in the Chestnut Hill Mall.
And there were people everywhere, heading to the MBTA station, stopping at the modern Walgreens , maneuvering the crowded aisles at the Tropical Foods market, the lone grocer around. And by saying no to Walmart, Menino believes he is preserving all this, the small businesses and the community feel of the square.
Maybe he is, but that preservation comes with a cost, and let’s be clear about who pays it: The good people of Roxbury.
By saying no to Walmart, the mayor has decided that city residents won’t have the same shopping options as the residents of suburbia, that they won’t have easy access to the bargain basement prices that Walmart, for good or bad, is famous for. You live in an upscale town, you can get Walmart prices; you’re trying to save money in Boston, sorry, but City Hall knows better.
What’s next, the mayor picks our cellphone service? Our dry cleaner? In Menino’s Boston, do we get Chevy or Ford, Coke or Pepsi , Quisp or Quake?
This should not be confused with an endorsement of Walmart, the monster retailer that’s easy to disdain, even when it attempts good deeds. It’s laughable how Walmart has suddenly and ham-handedly donated a couple of million to local nonprofits, while hiring a veteran political hack with Menino ties.
This should also not be confused with an indictment of the popular, family-owned Tropical Foods, a clean, well-lighted place where butchers in white coats restock the meat cases and workers are usually replenishing the shelves.
Problem is, at 8,500 square feet, the store is tiny, with a produce section that’s an afterthought in the back. Its proposal to expand to 20,000 square feet would still make it a relatively small store.
Menino has decided this is good enough and given Tropical Foods the equivalent of a no-bid grocery contract in Dudley. Beyond that, he doesn’t want Walmart showing up anywhere in town. It’s a rare day when this mayor doesn’t champion the interests of everyday residents, but this is one of them.
“I don’t think a misogynist job-sucking machine is a good idea for the city of Boston,’’ argued Peter Meade, the head of the Boston Redevelopment Authority.
It certainly sounds good, unless you’re one of the masses scouring your checkbook and struggling to make ends meet. At that point, you just want what everyone else has: Freedom of choice, and the ability to get the best deal around.
McGrory is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com.