It was only thirty or so years ago that one could drive through virtually any of America’s small towns and find in them thriving, closely knit business districts. On a single street, there might have been a barber’s shop, appliance store, hardware depot, luncheonette, and, of course, a five-and-dime. The sidewalks would be teeming with life as shoppers, most of whom were also neighbors, went from storefront to storefront in search of the best bargains of the day. Fast forward to the second decade of the twenty-first century, however, and a very different scenario is playing out; perhaps as much as seventy percent of all the businesses which had been alive with such vigor are now closed. Very few walk the streets, and those who do are either en route to another neighborhood or up to no good.
There is still commerce being conducted in town, to be sure, but as far as retailing is concerned, virtually all is centered inside a massive rectangular structure built on what was once a gorgeous meadow just outside of the former business district. Here, the doors never close and jobs are to be found without shortage. People roam its aisles with the intention of snagging great deals on anything and everything imaginable; from potted plants to cat chow. It all seems so wonderful, so convenient! With everything in one location, who could possibly need to venture elsewhere to shop? This place is just fantastic; the answer to every time and/or cash pressed consumer’s dream! Is this not simply wonderful? The entire world in a single big-box super-center. Honestly, does it get any better than this?
Welcome to Wal-Mart, and the environment which it creates. Since the mid-1990s, when the children of Sam Walton began bringing their late father’s chain of megastores into isolated communities with an unrelenting passion, thousands of small businesses, mostly sole proprietorships and generational enterprises, closed shop as they simply could not attempt to keep up with the new competition. Their employees then sought new jobs at, you guessed it, Wal-Mart, and as it was the only economic power in the region, spent their paychecks there as well. Today, this is the reality faced by millions in our nation. Creating a plantation-like atmosphere reminiscent of the old South, Wal-Mart has a labor force from which it not only derives a handsome profit, but has fenced into its shadeless fields for, more than likely, life. The saddest thing of all, though, is that many of the individuals from which it enjoys modern indentured servitude do not even realize the futility of their respective situations. No, all they see are good prices, moderate pay, and unbelievable convenience. What lies beneath this facade is inconsequential or, more frighteningly, irrelevant.
Lest any of us who are not employees of Wal-Mart believe, it takes a serious toll on our wallets as well. What? How? As a recent study conducted by the City University of New York revealed, the chain “…depresses area wages and labor benefits….pushes out more retail jobs than it creates, and results in more retail vacancies…” but not before imposing a burden on taxpayers as it forces many of its workers to apply for government assistance because they are given no medical benefits. Essentially, what Wal-Mart does is destroy previously healthy capitalistic environments, replace them with monopolies, and foster an entirely new generation of welfare recipients by leaving them without healthcare. Perhaps all that can be done to stem the tide of this insidious corporate dictatorship, besides the implementation of tariffs against China, from where Wal-Mart purchases most of its undervalued merchandise, therefore allowing it to charge artificially low prices, is to patronize as many locally owned establishments as possible; whether they be made of bricks and mortar or existing solely on the Web. If we do not, then all of us will continue footing the bill for Wal-Mart, and it will only grow steeper as time wares on.