The biggest change was that we now had choices. Before, if we needed consumer products we had to travel thirty miles down the road to Paris. The members of the local retail oligopoly offered a limited range of products at outrageously inflated prices (that seems to be forgotten in the hagiographic idealization of small retailers). Options that were taken for granted by people who lived in urban areas – the ability to buy a Sony Walkman and the latest Duran Duran cassette – were completely closed to our rural community. Sam Walton, though, changed all that.
In fact, it would be hard to underestimate the impact of “everyday low prices” had on how rural Texans. Even low income families like mine were able to afford items that were once considered luxuries. For example, I was able to purchase a weight lifting set for less than $20 dollars which allowed me to transform within a matter of months from an 85 pound weakling to a 98 pound he-man. On the surface, such changes may seem inconsequential. But when viewed on a macro level the broadening of consumer choices had an incredibly transformative impact.
The role of Wal-Mart in creating economic conservatives should also not be underestimated. Employee profit-sharing was a foreign concept for most citizens of Clarksville. For many people, the first stock that they ever owned (that didn’t come with hooves) was that of Wal-Mart, bought while working for the company. People who had formerly viewed stocks as the province of “Republicans” and other wealthy folk suddenly began to take an interest in Wall Street. The concept of company ownership suddenly became a reality for people who had previously never considered it a possibility.
I don’t shop a whole lot at Walmart, because I have to drive into Colorado Springs to find one, and when I get there, there are a lot of other choices. If there was a Walmart here in Limon, you bet I’d shop there.
There is one grocery store, one drugstore/hardware store, and one larger hardware store here in Limon. All but the larger hardware store would likely be put out of business by a Walmart here in Limon. People talk about the sad local businessman put out of business, but you’re talking about two or three people. And they’re not poor. The guy who owned the grocery store before I got here sold it and was able to move to Hollywood and pursue an acting career for his son with the proceeds. Their prices are wildly inflated and their selection stinks. Walmart would provide lower prices, better quality and better selection for everyone in town, without having to drive 70 miles for it. If you dispute that, you’ve got nothing to worry about. If they didn’t do better than the other stores, people wouldn’t shop there. So two or three people lose out, and a few thousand benefit.
Even if employment went down, it would only do so because they were able to produce the same or better product with less manpower. That’s a good thing, not a bad thing. If that happens, then everyone’s got more money in their pocket (because of having to spend less for so many things) to spend at other local businesses. More people come to Limon for shopping instead of the Springs or Denver, and then they eat at Limon restaurants and see a movie at the Limon theater. Those businesses hire more people. Everyone does better. Who knows- maybe they’ll even go to church at a Limon church.
Blocking the Walmart from coming to a small town like this is all about protecting privilege. It’s about protecting wealthy business owners from competition, and wealthy landowners from the possibility of the store lowering land values (which it never does.) Hating Walmart is another liberal cause du jour and like all the other liberal causes, it masquerades as being for the little guy, but it’s all about protecting the status quo, in favor of the privileged and stomping all over the average joe. Nobody forces anyone to shop at Walmart or work at Walmart. Even if Walmart comes and puts the grocery store out of business, you can still drive to Colorado Springs like everyone already does.
My one hesitation is the tax incentives. I don’t think anyone should be getting a tax break over what other businesses get. The market should determine those things and businesses- small or large- should be treated the same under the law, as much as possible. But that’s just one concern, and not a central one.
Walmart, if you’re listening- come build a store here. Make it a Superstore. I don’t care how ugly it is. The Superfoods isn’t exactly eye candy anyway. If you do, I’ll shop there. And a bunch of other people will too.
Good post, Joe. Thanks.