Teacher Essay #3: Opening a New Store

There is an old, family-run hardware store on Main Street in my town. The owners – a mother, father and their son – know nearly everyone who walks in. They remember the last thing you bought there. They know exactly what you need. I go there whenever I can.
But, there’s also a Home Depot (and a Wal-Mart, and a Target) in my town, too. When the hardware store doesn’t have what I need, like, the time I needed materials to tile my foyer, I’ll go there. Very convenient. But there are costs to convenience, and I do fear for the day when Clough’s Hardware, in Paradise Green, in Stratford, is forced to shut its doors.
I would oppose the opening of any new big-box store, like a Wal-Mart, in my community, because, research has shown, the presence of those stores cause smaller, independent stores to eventually close, and that is bad for several reasons: communities lose money, open space and character, and the sprawl that is covering our landscape with the large roads and enormous parking lots to accommodate these ginormous retail stories continues to consume our continent.
First, there is an actual economic loss in communities where big-box stores emerge. A study conducted by Civic Economics, in 2002, looked at the impact the opening of a Borders Books store would have on two independent stores in Austin, Texas. The study found that customers spending $100 at Borders would create $13 in local economic activity, while spending $100 at the independent stores would generate $45 in local economic activity. Now, multiply that by millions and it is clear that spending money at local independent stores is better for the local economy (Institute for Self Reliance).
Second, big-box stores, primarily, mean the loss of open space and natural resources. In my hometown, those stores – Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Shaw’s – were built on a formerly contaminated piece of property; so, in that case, it was an improvement. But, in many cases, these stores are built upon farmland, green space and even, sometimes, in wetlands. This trend of moving retail from city or town centers to the fringes where there was open space is considered sprawl and every year the country loses 3,000 acres of productive farmland (“No Farms, No Food,” the bumper sticker says), which is the size of Delaware, according to the American Farmland Trust.
Third, the opening of these stories eradicates a town’s character. People don’t say, “I moved here because I love the look of the big-box stores.” Due to the ubiquity of stores like Wal-Mart, some towns and cities seem identical, even if located in entirely different parts of the country. The U.S. is becoming homogenized, due to these stores. In 2004, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named Vermont as one of the eleven Most Endangered Historic Places because Wal-Mart announced plans to build seven stores there (Institute for Self Reliance).
Some say the opening of a big-box store creates many more jobs for a community, but the research shows that not only are those poor-paying jobs but that the presence of these stores does not change poverty statistics for an area. According to a study called Wal-Mart and County-Wide Poverty, published in Social Science Quarterly, in 2006, counties that added Wal-Mart stores between 1987 and 1988 “experienced higher poverty rates and greater usage of food stamps than counties where Wal-Mart did not build.” About 900,000 Wal-Mart workers, or 65 percent of its employees, receive less than $12 an hour, according to Living Wage Policies and Big-Box Retail: How a Higher Wage Standard Would Impact Wal-Mart Workers and Shoppers, a study conducted by the University of California Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education, in 2011.
So, yes, it is convenient that you can go to a place like Wal-Mart, or Target, and buy, say, light bulbs, 24 paper towels for $10, ground beef for taco night, an ironic tee shirt, diapers, a coffee grinder and yoga pants. But there are hidden prices to pay for that convenience. Paint is cheaper at Home Depot. But when we will paint the family room this summer, I’m going to Clough’s. And Mrs. Clough will know exactly the color we’ll need.


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About rcjockers

I am a middle-school language arts teacher in Connecticut. I like eating hot peppers from my garden, writing, and watching German soccer matches in the dark.

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