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The Mom-and-Pop Store vs. Walmart

Is this situation familiar to you? You are hanging out with a liberal friend, maybe at your local fair-trade coffee shop. Another friend you’ve been waiting for shows up late because he or she had to stop at the store and pick up something.
You: “Hey [Late friend’s name…probably Bill or something], did you get what you needed?” Late Friend: “Yeah, I actually got it at Walmart. I was so happy, they had exactly what I needed, and for a reasonable price to-boot!” The mood in the room changes faster than Walmart’s Smiley Face Man’s ever-shrinking prices. Things become tense.  The furrowed brow of your “progressive” friend (probably named something like “Shane” or “Colton”) alerts you to his dissatisfaction. Oh why, oh why, did Bill have to bring up Walmart? Liberal Friend: “Actually…”
Here we go…
Liberal Friend: “Actually, you know, I’m kind of, like, against the corporatization of America. Yeah, I think we should just need to get back to localized economies. We should be supporting mom-and-pop stores that get pushed out by wealthy corporations. I’m surprised those of you who are all for small government love corporation domination so much.”
Alright, now before parsing some of the issues we may have with these hypothetical friend’s sentiments, let us do what any serious pseudo-intellectual under the age of 30 ought to: we need to ask ourselves WWSS? (What Would Seinfeld Say?) The clip involves Kramer accusing George, Elaine and Jerry of being callous “yuppies” who don’t care about their local community like they should. George responds with a famous line in Seinfeld history:
Well, what’s so great about a mom-and-pop store? Let me tell you something, if my mom and pop ran a storeI wouldn’t shop there.
We are laughing. The Progressives Think They Have a Point To the untrained eye, there seems to be a contradiction in a free market conservative who preaches the superiority of limited government, de-centralization of powers and charity localization (i.e. churches, neighborhoods, families) while at the same time defending multi-national corporations like Walmart that dominate their respective markets. Things seem even more convoluted if the free-market conservative and his or her liberal chums are all Christians (or even simply “religious”). Where is compassion to be found in the face of a faceless corporate juggernaut? Are not more localized markets and businesses better suited to meet the needs of the people and areas they know best? Isn’t it unfair for a neighborhood sporting goods store to have to compete with Dick’s or Sports Authority? Or a local grocer or retailer to compete with the Walmart Supercenter? Except That They Don’t But this narrative does not construct a complete picture. Here are a few points to consider: First, every store starts as a mom-and-pop store. Walmart came from the humble beginnings of a simple man in Arkansas who saved and borrowed just enough money to get his foot in the retailing door. His wife and his father were his business partners. They worked their tails off. They innovated. They put everything on the line financially in hopes that their dream of merely owning a couple of stores would come true. This wasn’t the Rockefellers bank-rolling the entrepreneurial whims of one of their lazy trust-fund babies. This wasn’t Gordon Gekko swooping in to exploit another company’s hard work. It was Sam Walton, his pop and his bride. Second, we want mom-and-pop stores to grow into corporations. Here is something that inexplicably gets lost in the shuffle of these disagreements far too often. The mom-and-pop store that you love so much in your town has the potential to become a corporation like Walmart. If the local organic donut shop and bakery you so adore cross-country skiing to each winter for fresh-baked scones has a sound business model and high-quality product, eventually they will open another location. The owner of that scone-producing bakery might decide that he loves his “local community” model so much that he wants to bring it to many, many other “local communities” who may appreciate that his menu is handwritten on chalkboards each morning instead of all those “corporate” laminated ones. Third, and finally (for now): Profits are good things when legally earned. We want mom-and-pop stores to grow so that they open more stores and hire more people. What no one ever talks about when a Walmart moves into a new area is that the job-creation that takes place is on a scale that rural areas do not otherwise see much of these days. That means someone who was not working is now working, and people who were working at a mom-and-pop store have a chance at health insurance. They have the opportunity to earn success in the form of a paycheck from Sam Walton instead of hammering a check from their federal Uncle Sam. Towns (if not states) are literally “saved” when corporations like Walmart move in—they are equally destroyed when the corporations leave. Now, corporations, like governments, are run by imperfect people. And the purpose of this short piece is not to discuss the morality of the corporate soul. The purpose of this blog is to respond to that liberal friend who is quick to condemn you for shopping at Walmart. Your friend thinks Walmart preys on mom-and-pop stores? Have them tell a local shop owner that they should never grow their business. Have them tell a local shop owner to pull back on the reigns of being really good at what they do. Have them tell Sam and Helen Walton that they were wrong.