Buying locally has become second nature for me at this point and I don’t think I can ever set foot in Wal-Mart again. At a meeting last week regarding our “town” someone said they thought that Wal-Mart was our town center. Frightening, but probably accurate. Back when I made several trips to Wal-Mart a month, I always encountered people I knew. On the weekends, there was usually a boy or girl scout troop installed at the entrance selling cookies or popcorn or some other unhealthy product I don’t need, but usually buy, because I know the kids who are doing the selling.
Our town also has a small main street with art galleries, antique stores, and even a farm-to-table restaurant. To my mind, that should be our town center, and probably was once upon a time. Now it is mostly frequented by “tourists” from the Baltimore area. I suppose the reason it’s not our town center is that, other than the restaurant, the other stores are the kind you only frequent when guests are visiting. Plus the parking isn’t very simple, although it’s free. There is a park nearby, but it is hard to find. I lived here nearly a year before I discovered it, and only because the end-of-year kindergarten party was held there.
So, I suppose that the Wal-Mart shopping center is our town center. I wish it weren’t. This is a farming town at its heart. Antiques, farm restaurants, single-shingle shops and offices make a more appropriate town center.
Without easy parking and more restaurants, not to mention the fact that no-liquor licenses are available for the area, Main Street will stay relegated to the tourists and those few of us who make a point of patronizing the downtown locally owned businesses. Maybe I was born in the wrong century. Seems like the big guy always wins. Or at least the one with the most money. Wal-Mart made about 15.7 billion dollars in 2011.
I don’t know a single soul who works at Wal-Mart, and in the last ten years of patronizing the store, I haven’t come to know any of the employees.
Contrast that with the fact that I know many of the merchants on Main Street. Neal, who runs M&S Photo, is a talented, hard-working photographer who gives the local sports leagues a great deal on team pictures. He’s diabetic, has a dry sense of humor, and a vast knowledge of the local history. He charges less per picture than Wal-Mart. I stopped in recently and had a few last minute pictures printed. He waved away my money and thanked me for being a good customer.
My neighbor owns a wood Rehmeyer Wood Floors down on the southern end of Main Street. He’s also quite the cowboy and helped me break my big Quarter Horse as well as gave my husband and me a great deal on beautiful locally harvested hickory floorboards.
I’ve been served wine in the tiny wine shop in the Shops at 16 Main by one of the multiple owners of Logan’s View winery. After purchasing a bottle, we took it next door for a Juliana's, a world-class restaurant owned by the father of a classmate of my youngest son.
I’ve gotten my hair cut for ten years at Main Street BeautyWorks and when that same son developed alopecia areata, one of the stylists came to my house to trim up what was left of his hair as it fell out over the course of two months.
These people matter to me. Wal-Mart does not.