Fairbanks group fights advent of city's second Wal-Mart store

Posted: Tuesday, November 08, 2005

FAIRBANKS - A group of Fairbanks residents say building a second Wal-Mart in town will hurt local businesses and funnel more money out of Alaska.

The Fairbanks Grassroots Network also objects to the discount store giant's employee health care policies, which the network says are inadequate.

"Communities generally see the cost of health care rise because Wal-Mart employees often don't make enough to pay for insurance or hospital visits," said Rodney Guritz, a group member who attends the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Guritz is also worried that the superstore will create an eyesore.

"I've lived here my whole life, and I want to see Fairbanks stay the community I grew up in," he said.

Wal-Mart spokesman Eric Berger disputed the network's concerns about harming local businesses.

"We bring more customers to a particular area and businesses around us can benefit even if they sell the same products," he said in a phone interview from Wal-Mart corporate headquarters in Arkansas.

Berger said local businesses can survive by selling different products or services and said shoppers in the area had requested the new Wal-Mart.

The retail giant's health insurance program has been the center of national controversy in recent weeks. A company memo leaked to The New York Times encouraged managers to hire more part-time workers and to avoid hiring unhealthy or obese people because of insurance costs.

Wal-Mart corporate affairs publicist Olan James said Wal-Mart's critics are mostly "special interest groups" and said Wal-Mart is a great place to work.

Wal-Mart recently offered changes to a planned Supercenter and Sam's Club in east Anchorage after residents complained the retail giant would destroy the quiet and charm of nearby neighborhoods.

The company also has plans to expand its Wasilla store.

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