I went to college in Columbia, Missouri, and though it’s been years since I lived here, my mom has since moved to town, and I still consider it home. Columbia is approximately half way between St. Louis and Kansas City (two hours in each direction), and thus has mostly managed to retain its college town flavor.
Every year when I come home for a visit, my heart feels a bittersweet tug when I see further progress and development. For instance, I recently ran some errands with a good friend — for better or worse, most of my errands can be done in a jiffy at Wal-Mart. We started joking about the proliferation of Wal-Marts in town.
“There’s the one on the south side of town, one on the north side, one over by the highway,” recited my friend.
Whaaaa? Three Super Wal-Marts in my sweet little college town? How is that possible, I wondered. How can that possibly be good for the community?
Wal-Mart has battled controversy over this very question for years; how much it hurts local business, how ethical are their business practices, etc. It’s also become a topic of interest within the Beliefnet community
.To some, Wal-Mart is the earthly equivalent of the devil. Me? I’m torn.
In fact, let me share my instant message conversation tonight with the same, aforementioned friend with you. It summarizes my ambivalence quite nicely:
Me: I wish I were done working for the night – I’m writing a blog post about Wal-Mart
Friend: I hate Wal-Mart, but I shop there every single week.
Me: …..I wish I could just eat the ice cream I bought at Wal-Mart and read a book.
It’s not that I don’t believe in capitalism; I do. It’s not that I don’t appreciate convenience or saving a buck – I definitely do. My problem with Wal-Mart has less to do with the corporation than with our dependence on it. I’m not trying to run Wal-Mart out of town; rather, I’d love to see some type of balance. Surely not everyone needs to save dollar or two (or even $20 per trip to the grocery store). Couldn’t some of us, I dunno, indulge and spend more on a little local flavor, for the greater good of the community?
My friend pointed out that Columbia does indeed have a need for 4-5 large grocery stores; it’s grown quite a bit since I’ve lived here. However, by feeding into the notion that they ALL must be Super Wal-Marts, we’ve backed ourselves into a tiny corner and shot the “little guy” (ie local business owners) in the back.
I’m not a complete romantic; I know pro-Wal-Mart people will sing the praises of bringing jobs and business to town. And as I mentioned before, it’s not so much Wal-Mart that I have a problem with. I have a problem with…myself. When I lived in New York, I bought my day-to-day items at neighborhood and corner groceries. If I needed drugs or cosmetics, I went to the drugstore. If I needed shoes or clothing, I went to the appropriate clothing store. Sure, it wasn’t convenient, but it also was no skin off my nose.
This is a complicated subject–to be honest, I’m not even going to attempt delving into questionable business practices (I still want that ice cream, please understand). Still, writing this has shown me that I’ve been a hypocrite. I’m only going to be in a Wal-Mart town for another week, but in that week I pledge to stay as far away as possible from Wallyworld.
How about you? Are you a Wal-Mart lover or hater?