Friday, June 03, 2005

The Living Poem to Capitalism

Radley Balko's hymn to Wegman's, which just opened near Dulles Airport, is worth readinghere:

This supersized souk (it's twice the size of most large grocery stores) has its competitors worried. And rightly so. In its first year of operation, Wegmans' first D.C.-area store did more business than the six area Harris-Teeter stores combined. Forbes wrote in 2003 that in an era when traditional grocers are being devoured by Wal-Mart, Wegmans isn't merely surviving, it's thriving. The grocery industry has lost 13,500 stores since 1992, Forbes points out, yet Wegmans continues to open new ones. That has the D.C.-area's traditional grocers worried. And so they're looking to government to keep their competitor at arm's length -- or at least across the river in Virginia.

The Gazette article reports that Marylanders are 'begging' for a Wegmans. Both the company and the Montgomery County council have gotten numerous letters pining for one. Unfortunately, their government isn't serving them. Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan has introduced legislation making it more difficult for 'big box' stores like Wegmans (along with Target and Wal-Mart) to set up shop in the area. Duncan cites concerns about 'smart growth' policies, environmental concerns, and traffic as reasons for his proposal. The latter is rather peculiar. The philosophy behind big box stores is that they offer lots of things in one place, saving time, hassle and -- one would think -- gas and traffic congestion.

Nevertheless, when the progressive (read: big government) county council held hearings last summer on the new proposal, representatives from the two stalwart grocers in the area -- Giant and Safeway -- asked for tougher zoning laws, almost specifically tailored to the goal of keeping a Wegmans from opening in the county. Both cited congestion and infrastructure issues, but both also rather bluntly conceded that they were also worried about the competition. They were more than okay with using regulation to step on a competitor.

Maybe DC can invite a Wegman's into Anacostia to speed redevelopment? I'd drive there in a jiffy...