By now, shoppers in my local town should have had the pleasure of encountering something like this while buying their rice and beans in the aisles of a spanking new Walmart supermarket…..but the local council has, no doubt in the interests of health and safety, so far managed to keep the threat at bay.
Financial health and safety, that is.
The financial health and safety of certain important local people.
Walmart, for its purchasing power and the treatment of its workforce, is akin to a dirty word in certain circles….I remember being told by a ‘concerned’ North American expat not to shop in the down market Pali chain, as that was part of the evil Walmart empire – not that I took a great deal of notice.
Supermarket chains exploit as a part of their business plan, but if I need a bar of soap I’m going to buy it in a supermarket rather than drive up to the local indigenous people’s reservation to buy a suspiciously neon coloured bar of equally dubious provenance and be royally ripped off in the process.
I can’t say I am fond of Walmart here in Costa Rica….we once visited its store on the way to San Jose in search of a television.
The search lasted only as long as our arrival in the electrical goods area, where the prices were such as to blow us backwards bow legged. Still, as we were there, we decided to take a look round before we departed in search of cats’ whiskers and crystals and among the overpriced and flavourless cheeses, depressed looking tomatillos and frozen farmed salmon from Chile my husband found potatoes.
Not just potatoes…but potatoes on promotion.
Danilo was despatched to find trolleys; potatoes were sorted by Higher Authority, bagged by me and stacked in the trolleys by Danilo. An impressive production line which drew spectators wondering whatever we were going to do with that lot. Unlike France no one pointed out that potatoes on promotion were for everyone….
In line astern like the Grand Fleet we made for the checkout, where bag after bag was hefted onto the counter. I unloaded, Higher Authority counted the bags and Danilo loaded at the other end.
With a sigh of relief the checkout assistant presented the bill.
Higher Authority questioned it. The potatoes had not been billed at the promotion price.
But’s that what it says on the till.
It’s not what is says on the veg section.
Then, turning to me as the assistant rang for a supervisor, Quick…get back there and don’t let anyone move that price ticket!
We had been trained on French supermarket practice where the first reaction of management, once a price had been challenged, was to remove the price ticket from the offending item.
I legged it for the veg section and stood guard.
After a while an assistant appeared, reaching for the ticket. I interposed my person. The assistant departed.
After some muttering with his colleagues, he made a flank attack, trying to take the ticket from behind my back while sidling alongside me.
I put my hand on it.
A smart young lady appeared. A supervisor. With a lovely smile she explained that she needed the ticket in order to verify the price and sort out the problem.
I agreed that she would need the ticket but explained that it would only be available in the presence of my husband and whoever was dealing with the problem.
Then she regretted that she could do nothing about a refund.
I returned her smile and said that she should then find someone who could.
She returned whence she came.
The manager of the veg section manifested himself to explain that he would need to take the ticket.
Was he the person arranging the refund?
No, he was not.
Then no ticket.
Eventually the enemy fleet bore down on me….a large gentleman in a suit, three well built ladies in office dress and the till assistant with my husband in tow, letting the side down in tee shirt and gardening trousers.
I took possession of the price ticket and we all moved off to an office behind the tills, passing Danilo standing guard over the trolleys containing the contentious tubers.
The price was checked against some infernal IT system and was agreed to be correct.
A refund slip was issued.
We were escorted by the large gentleman and his assistant ladies to another office where details were entered in a book and money was forthcoming. Apologies were made for the problem.
We gathered Danilo and trolleys and departed, never, so far, to darken the doors of Walmart again.
So why am I so keen to see a Walmart in my local town?
Because apart from offering more choice to consumers it would provided competition for the existing supermarket, controlled by a local family and, more importantly, would offer further employment opportunities.
Not short term contracts to avoid paying social security, but long term jobs.
The town needs long term jobs.
Agriculture, once the staple, has declined. Nothing has taken its place. Successive town councils – all of the same political stripe – have turned their backs on development of industry, solemnly invoking the quality of the environment while allowing large scale housing development which has destroyed the rain forest and led to water shortages.
The place has stagnated…to the advantage of the local bigwigs.
The bus station is crowded in the early mornings with hordes of people going off to work in San Jose, having taken the feeder buses from their villages in the early hours.
These people are transported by the locally owned bus company, which certainly does not want to see employment on its doorstep…just think of the decline in revenues…
But the people it transports would dearly love to be able to work locally and avoid a one and a half hour journey morning and night.
The coming of Walmart alone would not solve the problem…but it would be a breach in the wall and as such has been opposed by the council, for whom pleasing the local movers and shakers is more important than the welfare of the mass of the people.
Not opposed openly, of course….but opposed effectively.
The local small claims court moved into town from the outskirts….into a building owned by a local bigwig.
The vacant plot was eyed by Walmart for installing one of its big Pali stores, but it was beaten to the post by another purchaser.
The wife of one of the owners of the local supermarket.
The plot still lies empty.
Walmart, undeterred, took a closer look at the area and decided that, given the catchment area of the town, it was worth installing a proper Walmart.
They bought a large plot which had once housed the teachers’ insurance agency.
They applied for planning permission and jumped through all the required hoops.
All was ready to go ahead when, at the last minute the town’s engineer (laughingly so called) announced that work must stop as Walmart had not applied for a demolition order.
Walmart had not applied for a demolition order as there was only a remnant of wall to demolish. Some three metres of it.
I know the town engineer, I know his false smile as he tries to bugger you up.
He knows mine as I thank him effusively before setting off for the Constitutional Court where I have defeated him and his council twice.
The council which employs him was stupid, arrogant and ignorant enough to think that it could take on Walmart.
Walmart have taken them to court for not respecting planning procedures.
Walmart has won.
Walmart has just been awarded compensation for loss of predicted earnings, currently running at £125,000 and rising daily.
Add this to the matter of the large amount of money which went missing under the aegis of the last mayor and it wouldn’t take a Nostradamus to predict that there will be trouble at t’molina.
Because those responsible will not be paying from their own pockets…local taxes will rise, yet again.
We will see how the tribal loyalty which has seen this political party elected time after time will resist the wallop in the wallet come the next elections.
We’ve just had a visit from the new President – not of the same party as the council.
He has announced help to make the area build a profile in eco tourism but, more importantly, has set up a road building and repair project and has directed the Apprenticeship Institution to set up courses in IT to enable local kids to fill the jobs which are available on this side of San Jose.
None of the proposed projects involves the council, which can’t get its mitts on a peso of the proposed budget.
A breach in the wall…and those of us who remember the destruction of the Berlin Wall know what that can mean.
Our small town is not East Germany, but its denial of opportunity to its people is East Germany in miniature.