The Endless Wal-Mart Debate
Just read an interesting post over at BoingBoing, a group blog I linked over to from one of my regular political blog reads, Andrew Sullivan at The Atlantic. The post is is written by a journalist who went to work at Wal-Mart for (an admittedly brief) period of time as an hourly employee and decided it’s not such a bad gig.
He asserts that because his is a contrarian view he can’t get the news published. And no, he doesn’t discuss any efforts he made to do so. Just as interesting are the comments from readers of the story, including former Wal-Mart employees. They weigh in for and against his point of view.
This brought to mind my own Wal-Mart story. I grew up in a relatively small town in southern Illinois called Olney. Wal-Mart arrived just as my family was leaving. Olney was a Wal-Mart kind of town at the time for the company’s strategy - rural, a good 50 miles from an interstate highway in any direction — so much so that Olney was featured in a TV commercial series in the late 1980’s called, if I remember correctly, A Wal-Mart Kind of Town.
On the one hand, Main Street (it really is named Main Street) was fairly decimated as a thriving commercial hub. The record store, the bicycle/toy store, the two dime stores, the jewelry store, the little JCPenney and most of the clothing stores were wiped out.
On the other hand, I remember how people used to complain about the mark-ups at the local stores, about how if you drove over to Indiana to shop in Vincennes or even the big city of Evansville, you could buy things more cheaply.
The other thing that changed vividly was convenience. When I was growing up, if you found yourself in sudden need of an egg, a cup of milk, some Scotch tape or whatever after 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday (or at any time on Sunday) you had better be on good terms with your neighbors because borrowing was your only option. That was no longer the case after Wal-Mart came to town.
Eventually, Wal-Mart opened a food distribution center in Olney that employs more than 1,000 people.
So, on a personal level, I’m an agnostic on the subject of Wal-Mart’s impact. On the trips I’ve made back home I’ve always been fascinated that some of the same people who will complain most bitterly about how Wal-Mart changed downtown are also the first to say, when there is a sudden need for more soda pop or charcoal briquettes or hotdog buns, "I’ll just run out to Wal-Mart."
Time marches on.