A plan to expand a “big box” store in Iowa may run into opposition from a social activist who says Wal-Mart’s a killer of small businesses statewide. There’s already a Wal-Martstore on the industrial south side of Iowa City, but before it was built, Gary Sanders fought a losing battle to block it. Sanders says Wal-Mart” dwarfs all other corporations in the retail world,” and sets a standard for lowering wages and benefits. Sanders tried to get the city to deny Wal-Mart a permit to build in 1989, and today he’s suing the city council, saying it proposes to make a minor change in zoning to let Wal-Mart replace its existing store with a bigger one. Sanders, a retired teacher and professor, says his objection centers on the low wages and out-sourcing that have made Wal-Mart one of the world’s most profitable businesses. Sanders says Wal-Mart has also “led the charge of American corporations moving manufacturing first to Central America and now to China.” He says others have had to follow that example. Studies have found many Wal-Martemployees earn so little money, they qualify for taxpayer-funded healthcare programs for the poor in Iowa. But since the chain already built a store in Iowa City, why fight its plan to expand? Sanders says he’s fighting them “because they’re worse than they were in 1989 when we fought them the first time.” Since then he charges that numerous independent smalltown businesses have closed when Wal-Mart built its discount stores on the outskirts of towns around the state. Sanders says, “They have destroyed much of smalltown independent business in this state.” But the store’s not the only player. It’s close to the city airport where Operations Assistant Mike Tharp says Wal-Mart wants to buy some land. Tharp says the chain intends to expand the old building into a larger “Super Wal Mart” building. The expansion includes a proposal to buy a chunk of land from the city that’s now airport property, and that would benefit the city airport. The airport would use proceeds from that land to pay off debt from years ago when it built some hangars. Tharp says having retail businesses around its perimeter doesn’t hamper airport operations in Iowa City. Long as it complies with federal rules, he says you can build “pretty much anything” in the area…and he points to Cedar Rapids, where there’s a golf course nearby. Losing the deal won’t close the airport, but making it would help retire the debt and take it off the city’s debit column. The city council’s agreed to a request by the opponents of the Wal-Mart store extend the closing date of the land sale till after the first of next year.
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