William McGurn has a column in today's Wall Street Journal on Walmart's expansion in Chicago, which reminded me that I wanted to post something here about my drive Sunday, which took me past a new Walmart supercenter in Worcester, Massachusetts. A Worcester Telegram & Gazette article and the map that goes with it highlight the two things I noticed: "12 wind turbines atop 48-foot light poles in the parking lot to help generate electricity for the parking lot lights and the store" and a street named "Walmart Way."
The Route 146 connector between the Massachusetts Turnpike and I-290 features a new government road sign marking the turn for "Walmart Way." Google Maps shows other streets named Walmart Way in Lawrence, Ohio; Newport News, Virginia; Tift, Georgia; Chesterfield, Virginia, and Lumpkin, Georgia. There's also a "Wal-Mart Way," with a hyphen, in Maysville, Kentucky.
Walmart's not the only store that does this; Ikea has stores on "Ikea Drive" in New Jersey and Texas, and "Ikea Plaza" in Brooklyn is marked with another slew of government road signs.
The local governments, naturally, are grateful for the jobs and tax revenue that these big box stores provide, and the street signs do provide a useful service to motorists looking for the store. I've been a big defender of Walmart as a general matter, at least when it comes to the New York City Council's desire to prevent New Yorkers from having the choice to shop at one within the city limits. But it seems to me that getting a government road sign advertising their store is a way that big business such as Ikea or Walmart has a government-issued advantage over small business like Joe's Hardware or Ralph's Furniture. If the government put up billboards showing customers the way to Walmart or Ikea but not to Joe's Hardware or Ralph's Furniture, nearly everyone would notice the injustice of it. Road signs for "Walmart Way" or "Ikea Drive" are more subtle -- but only slightly.