The Kalispell VFW presented colors, high school cheerleaders shook pom-poms and the crowd of about 100, braving the rain, listened to a rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner." No, it wasn't a rehearsal of Kalispell's Fourth of July Parade. Rather, the celebration marked the grand opening of the massive Wal-Mart Superstore on Highway 93 north of Kalispell.
Apparently Wal-Mart has become as American as apple pie.
Or maybe as American as a Hershey chocolate bar, which was, reportedly, the first item purchased last Wednesday morning after the Supercenter's ribbon-cutting. Kalispell's Jason Hunt, along with his two brothers and two cousins, camped overnight in the parking lot for the right to be the first through the checkout line.
"I couldn't be more honored," Hunt told the Daily Inter Lake after the purchase. "This is by far the best Wal-Mart in the world."
Probably not, considering Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, operates more than 4,300 stores in the United States, and some 4,000 more around the world. But Kalispell's 188,028-square-foot Supercenter does stand out. It has a recycled concrete floor and domed skylights to bring in natural sunlight, among other "eco-friendly" features. It also houses a walk-in clinic run by the Kalispell Regional Medical Center, offering check-ups, immunizations, X-rays and screenings, as well as treatment of minor injuries.
Kalispell's new Wal-Mart may be the ultimate in one-stop-shopping, and it may have just employed about 150 people in a corner of Montana with some of the state's highest unemployment rates, but we suspect the feel-good PR and the thrill of saving a couple bucks on laundry detergent will wear off before long.
We can't say it any better than former Independent contributor John Dicker, who, in his 2005 book The United States of Wal-Mart, concludes: "We're all Wal-Mart's bitches."
"Wal-Mart has mastered the art of stocking shelves as cheaply as possible," writes Dicker, "but with a growing body count and a rap sheet that does not bode well for either American capitalism or America's (and the world's) workers."
There are enough pages written on Wal-Mart's evil nature to fill the 130,000-square-foot building the company has left empty after closing in nearby Evergreen. We'll only add this: It seems the best way to lift our region out of this interminable recession is to spend our dollars with local businesses, not add them to Wal-Mart's more than $400 billion in annual sales.
But low prices are hard to resist. Sort of like that all-American Hershey bar, which, it turns out, may have actually been made in Monterrey, Mexico.