I hate the term real estate. It's cold and business-y, everything that tends to make me hide under the bed. What I write about is space: homes, cafes, places where you can do work, pet the cat, and Google your next-door-neighbor from 10 years ago. I write about places. And I like to do it from a personal perspective.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Good neighbor?

In my hometown, cheers went up with the new Wal-Mart on Midland Road. A welcoming ceremony was held. My brother, then 18, went to work for the cause of Sam Walton. We found a new place to hang out at 3 am.

That was a little more than a decade ago. Since then, communities have both celebrated and cried out against the advent of Wal-Mart. But it looks like some members of my current home are excited about the mega-chain's latest addition to this neck of the woods.

Commercial real estate is an odd animal. I wrote about it for GlobeSt.com back in the days of the boom, covering both San Francisco and the Silicon Valley. What a madhouse -- vacancy rates in the low single digits, would-be tenants pulling every trick in every book to get in. We all knew the bottom would fall out, but it turned out to be sooner rather than when we'd hoped.

Wal-Mart doesn't have one singular affect. When I lived in the rural Midwest, the store was a city hub and social gathering point. One Saturday afternoon I stumbled across a square-dancing event by the checkout registers.

I'm not naive. This was not the goal. The goal was to make bucks, and it's often at the expense of the workers, who receive minimal paychecks with little to no benefits. And the real-estate landscape is often at risk, with smaller businesses closing as a result. But in the case of Oakland's Hegenberger Road, a freeway-adjacent area which hardly started out looking like Main Street U.S.A., it looks like Wal-Mart is, indeed, a welcome neighbor.

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