Bloomberg News has been doing a series of stories "outing" what it calls "hidden billionaires," or billionaires who have not appeared on published lists such as the one done by Forbes. The latest is Bob Piccinini, the majority owner of the Modesto, Calif-based Save Mart Supermarkets chain. Bloomberg reports that Mr. Piccinini "has expanded Save Mart by exploiting local zoning laws to thwart bigger competitors."
"Exploiting" is probably a bit of a loaded word there, but the article explains how it works:
Piccinini also has competed against Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT) and Boise-based WinCo Foods Inc. by opposing the retailers before local planning boards and city councils, often under the guise of neighborhood groups, according to state court documents.
In the city of Selma, a Central Valley town south of Fresno, Wal-Mart accused Save Mart of being behind an anti-Wal-Mart group, Save Our Selma Coalition, in a 2005 filing requesting a subpoena. Bentonville, Arkansas-based Wal-Mart built its store anyway. In Tracy, California, WinCo accused Save Mart in 2007 of directing a lawsuit filed by neighborhood group Tracy First against the city for approving a new WinCo store, according to a state court document. WinCo also built its store.
Flickinger said Save Mart's territory still only has one Wal-Mart supercenter for every 150,000 people, compared with one for every 45,000 in Alabama.
This is an excellent example of how regulations can hurt consumers (who would benefit from lower prices and competition) but benefit established businesses who use the government to ward off competition.
Elsewhere, the article offers some insight into how it isn't only the poor who benefit from food stamp programs, but also billionaires who operate supermarkets in neighborhoods with a lot of poor people. The wire service quotes one consultant who says Save Mart could be worth as much as $2.3 billion, "depending on ...if the state can enroll more eligible participants in the CalFresh food stamp program."