By Cobey Williamson, Corvallis
Allowing a Wal-Mart to be built in Hamilton is as good as giving up on the future of the Valley. It is admitting, wholesale, that we do not care to determine our own economic vision for Ravalli County and prefer rather to eschew the very independence people here claim to value so highly. I will not bore you with the fiscal details, but a Wal-Mart in Hamilton does not bring any more cash into the Valley, save a very small sum from Salmon. Yes, a few folks who currently travel to Missoula to shop at Wal-Mart will have a little more buying power, but they won’t have any more money than they had already. Nothing will change, really, other than there will be a Wal-Mart in Hamilton.
The Bitterroot Valley will never again have an export, or even a value added, based economy. The only thing it can hope to do is bring people with money in. To do this, we have systematically cut up and taken out of production the very agricultural lands that were the only available source of sustainable export revenue. Beyond government funding, construction of homes for this influx is essentially the only other contributing sector of the local economy. The one depends on the other, and are inherently self-limiting, ultimately stalling and all the while filling the Valley with more people who are not generating any significant income.
So why not have a Wal-Mart in Hamilton? Saves a drive to Missoula, right? Because not having a Wal-Mart encourages a certain type of development. A wealthier one. Hamilton is more attractive without a Wal-Mart. Which do you prefer, Main Street or 93? Wal-Mart is not small town; it is exactly the kind of development we live here to avoid. Wal-Mart does nothing to improve our quality of life, our economy, or our outlook. It’s just a big box sitting in a pasture that was paved over and lit up with halide lights, filled with imported goods and linked to a large multinational bank by a satellite dish.
Not that it matters. Wal-Mart has run the numbers and it’s time to suck the blood out of the Bitterroot. There isn’t anything you or I can do about it, whether we wanted to or not.
You can be happy about Wal-Mart coming to Hamilton or you can be sad, but be sure, it signals the future landscape of the Valley. Rather than realize our own self-inspired identity, we aspire instead to support the very thing we seek to escape, all apparently so folks in Salmon don’t have to drive as far.
I’d rather they put the Wal-Mart in Salmon, and we see how it works for them.