My Turn: Attention Walmart Shoppers

Mik Muller, Greenfield Recorder. January 26, 2020

I read a letter on these pages a week ago or so that, frankly, stuck in my craw. The writer demanded that we stop protecting our downtown, complaining that "town leaders" were responsible for keeping bottom-dollar shopping from Greenfield. The writer was incensed that they had to drive out of town (actually, out of state!) to do some shopping, and as an added insult (or was it spite?), the whole family decided to eat out of town, too. The writer then called our "town leaders" backwards, archaic, tax-raisers who don't want economic development here.

Well, call me crazy, but I like my downtown to not be chain stores. I like local shops owned and run by my neighbors. I like 100% of the money spent here to stay here, where the owners also actually live and shop, too, so the money continues to stay in town. Maybe we could all support that? I mean, really, driving to Brattleboro for pizza? We have four excellent, locally-owned, non-chain pizza joints just in downtown!

So, what happens if we let more chains in. Well, why not try searching for reports done by people who know about economic development. I found an excellent article entitled "The Impact of Chain Stores on Community", by Stacy Mitchell for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Search for that article and you'll find this as the opening paragraph:

"Chain store proliferation has weakened local economies, eroded community character, and impoverished civic and cultural life. Moreover, consolidation has reduced competition and may harm consumers over the long-term. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the decline of independent businesses is not inevitable, nor is it simply the result of free market forces. Rather, public policy has played a major role, particularly through tax incentives and other development subsidies that give national chains a significant advantage. Meanwhile, a growing number of communities are taking a different approach. They are adopting land use rules that deter chain stores and actively encourage local ownership."

The decision we're continually contemplating is this: do we want to become another Hadley? They lucked out in having Route 9 run through them, though as a result there's no real downtown, if they ever even had one in the first place. It's all giant parking lots with chain stores.

Is that what we want? To look like Hadley? To look like Just-Another-Town, MA, where the shoppin's cheap and the food is exactly the same as Just-Another-Town, Every-Other-State?

BTW, if you're not finding what you want in Greenfield, why not stay in-state and at least go to Hadley so the tax dollars stay in Massachusetts? Really? New Hampshire and Vermont?

And, a somewhat repeated note about Walmart. You know why their prices are so low? The Walton family strong arms American suppliers and wholesalers to reduce their prices (taking money out of their pockets), while also paying their own employees the lowest possible wages. All profit goes out of state to the largest family fortune on earth, a $152 billion hoard, run out of two floors in a sky-scraper in Bentonville, Arkansas.

If the country continues to slip down the lowest-dollar-at-all-costs slide, where will we land? Tumbleweeds in downtown. Wrecking balls on our old buildings to make way for the new Company Store, who will own our souls once there's no competition left? Thank god we can finally buy $1 socks IN TOWN, though!

Well, if you think we locals-first people are archaic, I think building mega-chain Walmart stores has become archaic. In fact, they've slowed down on building new stores the past couple years. Why?

Behold! Here comes the Amazon Drone Army! Now you don't even have to even leave home to spend your money elsewhere!

This dystopian future has the following creepy aspects: (a) live microphones in millions of homes, listening in on our conversations and determining trends of advertising opportunities; (b) connected to the largest online retailer, who is already responsible for the shutting down of so many local shops across the country, and who also pays no corporate taxes (nor does its richest-man-on-the-planet CEO, Jeff Bezos); (c) all while developing a Drone Delivery system.

You think Americans are already fat and lazy? Picture the day when you can simply buckle into your barcalounger, call across the room "Alexa, bring me a pepperoni slice and a large sugary soda" and five minutes later there's a tap at your window. Drone Delivery Pizza! Yay!

This is not some bizarre sci-fi nightmare. They're building it. Right now. Today. It's called "Amazon Air." I kid you not. And everyone with an Amazon microphone device in their house is already set up to access this new town-killing commerce system. Remember the tumbleweeds I mentioned earlier?

Me? I have town pride, and I work with our "town leaders" and local business groups to focus on how to keep our town a thriving, unique hamlet. Sure, if I can't find what I'm looking for here I'll certainly find it elsewhere (that's the American way), but I'll make sure to eat in town, go to shows in town, see movies in town, and buy whatever else I can... in town. Even if it costs a few dollars more.

We should all do that.

Mik Muller
Greenfield, MA