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BELLINGHAM, Wash. -- Wal-Mart's expanding presence in Washington State has prompted Brown & Cole Stores to offer eight of its 31 supermarket locations for sale. The company, one of the oldest retail firms in the state, said it must "get smaller and more focused to survive," according to a company statement.
The affected grocery stores, which are Food Pavilions in Yakima, Pasco, Kennewick, Arlington, and Arlington-Smokey Point; a Food Depot store in Okanogan; and Thrifty Foods in Burlington and Stanwood, will be unloaded in a deal that's expected to wrap up in May. Most of the stores to be sold are in markets that have been heavily affected by Wal-Mart, the statement said.
"We do best in towns with a strong sense of community that share our values," observed president and c.e.o. Craig Cole, "and where consumers appreciate a good employer and a good corporate citizen. Our strategy is one that resonates with communities that have these strong values and a sense of self. I'm not sure it works where that community dynamic is absent or not fully developed."
Cole went on to accuse Wal-Mart of providing "inferior wages and benefits for its workers, outsourcing jobs to foreign producers, and showing little regard for the environment." By contrast, Brown & Cole provides health care payments for 95 percent of its employees, according to Cole. He added, "The American worker and local businesses are becoming roadkill in Wal-Mart's march towards the worldwide domination of commerce."
To survive, companies like Brown & Cole will have to provide a personalized, locally customized shopping experience, he continued. "Our model for the future is more based on people than anything else," noted Cole. "It is a strategy based upon treating employees, consumers, the environment, and the community with respect and stewardship, and doing everything that we can to support local, sustainable economies."
Brown & Cole spokeswoman Sue Cole told Progressive Grocer that the retailer had no further comment beyond its statement.
Seattle-based Wal-Mart spokesman Eric Berger responded to the Tri-City Herald in Kennewick that the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer's employees were treated fairly and received competitive wages. Berger said that of the 86 percent of Wal-Mart hourly employees with health insurance, 56 percent get it through the company, while the rest are insured through other means, among them Medicare.