Do discount supermarkets increase crime?

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The opening of a discount superstore could seem like good news for a disadvantaged area - but it can lead to an increase in crime, a new study shows.

Walmart - which owns the UK's ASDA supermarket chain - has a tendency to build in areas which already have higher-than-average crime levels, the US researchers say. But, they found, as new Walmart stores opened during the 1990s, levels of crime locally fell much less than in other comparable areas.

"If the corporation built a new store, there were 17 additional property crimes and two additional violent crimes for every 10,000 persons in a county," says lead author Scott Wolfe, assistant professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of South Carolina.

The reason, says the team, is likely to be the company's overwhelming influence on economic and social factors such as jobs, poverty rates and retail prices.

"More research is needed to uncover why the Walmart effect extends to crime," says Wolfe. "Does it reduce community social cohesion or simply increase opportunities for theft and other crimes in specific store locations that are great enough to influence county crime rates? These are questions that remain."

And if you were thinking this is just an American problem, think again. In their paper, published in the British Journal of Criminology, the researchers suggest that their findings may well apply to the UK too.

"Asda, a subsidiary of Walmart, has been a forerunner in the development of 'deep discount' and 'variety' superstores in the United Kingdom's retail sector over the past decade," they write.

"Corresponding with such growth has been a decline in locally-owned businesses such as butchers and specialty retail stores. Worthy of consideration by British policy-makers is whether growth of big-box retailers corresponds with reductions in local businesses and whether such growth is in the best interest of the local economy."

But if discount stores can be bad for an area, the opposite applies when it comes to high-end supermarkets. Last year, research from estate agent Savills revealed that having a Waitrose nearby can increase property prices by as much as 50 percent. To those that have shall be given...

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