I’ve been reading the book Big-Box Swindle: The True Cost of Mega-Retailers and the Fight for America’s Independent Businesses. It is quite fascinating and makes me sad, the kind of sad where you shake your head and purse your lips and quote from Futurama. But it’s really difficult and near impossible to change behavior and the thought behind shopping at the Big Box Businesses. For one, they provide comfort in familiarity. Sometimes I go into a local business and I’m overwhelmed by my ignorance of the appropriate sequence of events. Do I stand here or there for service? Do I ask or will they come to me? Can I touch things? Is it okay to ask for a sample? Every time you walk into the Big Box you know the sequence of events and it is comforting that you can count on the same actions repeating themselves with familiarity.
I can instantly find the nearest Big Box and google recognizes the search, even if it’s vague. I type in grocery store or restaurant and google displays so many well known and instantly recognizable names as well as some that are unfamiliar. Do I know that they have what I’m looking for? Perhaps not. Maybe some of the local stores aren’t even within instant searchable terms. I feel like the ignorant child that when asked, where do apples come from says “The store” without a second thought and doesn’t even connect the dots between tree and store to apple in hand because all that child knows is the apple from the store.
But the book points out that there is a cost, rather many costs to supporting these Big Box Businesses. They swoop in with bells and whistles when the going is good and swipe business from the local independent stores. Healthy competition right? Wrong. The Big Box Businesses undercut the local economy, siphoning money, resources, good jobs and benefits, tax revenue, and more from the local government/city and if the going gets tough they leave, creating a loss within that society. What does the local city do when a Big Box wants to move in? They welcome the business with open arms and subsidies, believing in the fake promise of growth and progress spouted by the schlubs in the industry. Yes, there is growth and progress, but only for the Big Box and the investors sitting in their cozy homes hundreds and thousands of miles from where that local Big Box is being built.
The Big Box commands so much force but where are the checks and balances? How do we keep such a beast in line? We can’t because there will always be that desperation to cling to any shred of leftovers the Big Boxes throw our way, be it donations to charities, jobs, tax revenue, or empty promises that will be forgotten in ten years time when they move on to bigger and better profits elsewhere. Don’t be that ‘elsewhere’ and take a stand for your local business.