Chapel Hill is undoubtedly a charming place to live. Although it is not far from Durham and Raleigh, Chapel Hill has maintained its small town atmosphere, making it an appealing place to go to school or raise a family. But some residents believe that preserving the town’s charm means rejecting the presence of “big-box” stores like Wal-Mart and Target, and this rejection comes with a price.
During the past three years, Chapel Hill’s sales tax revenue has been about $42.80 per month per resident, a significantly lower amount than the averages of comparably sized cities.
Since the Target at Southpoint and the Wal-Mart in New Hope Commons are only 15-minute drives away in Durham, potential sales tax revenue for Chapel Hill is flowing over the county line.
The absence of big-box stores doesn’t just affect the town’s operating budget. It also takes a toll on Chapel Hill’s reputation and its residents, specifically low- to middle-income families and UNC students. The mentality that Chapel Hill should shut out businesses that offer low-priced goods, whether they are big-box stores or drive-throughs, is a big factor that contributes to the town’s elitist reputation.
Some may argue that this mentality is necessary to keep small businesses open and to preserve the local color of Chapel Hill, but it prevents people outside the upper-middle class from living comfortably. Without sales tax revenues, Chapel Hill has had to maintain high property taxes that, combined with the absence of discount shopping options, make it difficult for people who work in Chapel Hill — like University employees — to live in the town as well.
We should be more open-minded about the idea of a big-box store in Chapel Hill. They are convenient for shoppers who are under time and budget constraints, and they could help alleviate the town’s problem with generating sales tax revenue.
It’s okay to not like Wal-Mart, but it’s not okay to keep it out of a town with residents who need to pinch a few pennies. Besides, A Southern Season, Weaver Street Market, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and The Fresh Market will always be right around the corner for those who don’t want to shop at a big-box store.
These stores could be introduced in Chapel Hill in a way that is in keeping with the small-town image. By doing so, the town would reap many benefits and become a more livable community for everyone.
George Drometer is a senior political science major from Greensboro. Contact George at email@example.com.