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Mega-retailer#039;s latest, proof grandmother knows best

Now I am convinced that my grandmother has been correct all along; the end of the world is near.

She's been telling me that for years, but until last week, I didn't believe her.

Yes, it's true, the popularity of the "Left Behind" series of books isn't the only sign heralding the end of our world as we know it.

Plucked straight from the business pages, the headline worried me: "Wal-Mart opens Beijing outlet."

Although the Friday event marked the official beginning, Wal-Mart, in its infinite sprawling march to conquer the world, had already opened up 22 additional Chinese locations before the Beijing store made headlines. To be precise, the Bentonville, Ark., company has been serving the Chinese needs for food, toiletries and other essential items for seven years now.

Wal-Marts sprouting all across China? This must be a sign of the apocalypse, right?

Of course, I'm joking about the end of the world, but the homogenizing of the world is a slight concern.

At some point in my life, I would love to travel abroad and China would be a great place to visit. But will the Great Wall have as much mystery and inspire as much awe if a Wal-Mart SuperCenter can be seen in the distance?

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not blaming Wal-Mart for its hunger to dominate and its need to keep growing. It's only natural.

Birds sing, frogs hop, dogs bark (and occasionally bite) and Wal-Mart, well, it grows.

Unfortunately, it has grown so large that it becomes deadly to surrounding businesses. Not unlike a large tree whose branches grow wider and wider until its leaves block the sun from nearby plants, Wal-Mart's growth can suffocate many smaller competitors.

Think Wal-Mart isn't big?

Try this statistic on for size: The Wal-Mart Corp. operates approximately 4,400 Wal-Mart and Sam's Club stores throughout the world.

Of those, approximately 1,200 are abroad and the rest are located in the United States. According to an Associated Press article, the mega-retailer hauled in $217.2 billion in sales during 2001.

Although the company would not say how much of that comes from the Chinese, suffice to say the folks in Bentonville see lots of Yen-potential in their future.

How about a few staggering facts?

Wal-Mart is already the single largest purchaser of Chinese products.

If it were a nation unto itself, Wal-Mart would be the eighth-largest export destination.

That single fact is amazing and proof of the gargantuan size of Wal-Mart.

At the rate Wal-Mart is growing, one day consumers will hardly be able to throw a rock without hitting one of the big blue signs -- regardless of whether that rock is in South Point or south Shanghai -- and Wal-Mart will just keep growing, that is, unless my grandmother really is right this time.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Tribune. He may be reached at (740) 532-1445 ext. 12 or by e-mail to kevin.cooper@irontontribune.com.