Over the last six months or so the Washington Post reported on some controversy surrounding the potential opening of a new Costco store in Montgomery County, Maryland. The two main problems are local residents’ concerns about a Costco gas station and a $4 million contribution by Montgomery County to Costco to help with construction costs. Both issues are obviously complex with all sides making reasonable arguments.
As I read the Post’s coverage, I expected to see some anti-Costco jabs. Perhaps a few quotes expressing the outrage local small business owners feel as local government officials sell them down the river. But the most critical comment made about Costco was… …the slightly mocking, but still funny, editorializing by reporter, Katherine Shaver. She wrote, “Costco fans in southern Montgomery County are rejoicing that soon they won’t have to drive to Gaithersburg or Beltsville to buy whopper packs of paper towels and peanut butter.”
What did surprise me is how positive everyone in the stories seemed about Costco. Even the head of the opposition to the Costco gas station, a woman in charge of a local citizens group, made pains to explain that she and her fellows were not upset about Costco coming to their neighborhood, but it was just the gas station that bothered them.
In a complete reversal of my expectations, one of the stories concluded with this quote:
Bob Schilke, co-owner of the Little Bitts Shop in Wheaton Triangle just east of the mall, said he and other small-business owners welcome the new customers Costco will attract from far beyond Wheaton. He said he’s not concerned a big box store will gobble up business from local mom-and-pop shops because most near him sell specialty items that Costco doesn’t, such as the cake decorations and candy-making supplies his store has sold for 34 years.
“Most business owners are glad to see it come,” Schilke said. “It will mean more jobs for the Wheaton area and will bring people in. I think we’ll all get a piece of the action.”
Of course debates must be had about whether municipalities should use taxpayer dollars to prime the business pump, especially in era of budget belt-tightening. My question is, if big box stores are such an obvious cancer to local communities, then where was the opposition this time? As I’ve argued before, big chains and mom ‘n’ pops can* happily coexist.
*Note: “can” does not equal “will always.”
Adam D’Luzansky lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.