23 November 2003
Cleanup on aisle nine
Kevin Drum's Calpundit is running a statement from Barbara Maynard, who represents the two UFCW locals striking Los Angeles-area grocery stores, and she's got a question that deserves an answer:
Would you rather that these 70,000 middle class jobs become poverty level jobs filled by workers who have to turn to the taxpayer for healthcare and food stamps? That's what the [three supermarket chains] are proposing because that's what Wal-Mart has.
I've been to one Wal-Mart Supercenter, and while it was fairly sanitary people are always telling me how grubby Wal-Mart stores are, for some reason it had the general ambiance of a bus station, and I didn't feel compelled to go back again; well, yeah, I might save a couple of bucks on a basket, but do I really want to put myself through that again?
Maybe this is another case of "maybe it's just me." I've been on Poverty Row before, and it's a genuinely lousy place to live, but the experience did not instill in me a desire to squeeze every last dime until FDR screams in pain; it may be important for some people's sense of self and, for that matter, for the Wal-Mart business model to believe that they've paid the absolute lowest possible price for something, but it doesn't do a thing for me. I bought my last car from one of those "no-haggle" dealerships, and while I might have been able to save a couple hundred bucks somewhere else in the state Oklahoma is not exactly overrun with Mazda stores what's the point on a $20,000 car? It's like driving 30 miles to save two cents a gallon on gas.
And sometimes there are intangibles involved. For the new house, I'm buying a truckload of appliances, and there was never any question where I was going to get them: I haven't had that many dealings with Sears in recent years, but they've always treated me well, and as a former Reservist, I appreciate what they're doing for present Reservists.
There is little doubt that the arrival of that first Wal-Mart strikes fear into the hearts of local retailers, and not everyone welcomes them with open arms. I rather think the trend will last a while: Wal-Mart will continue to grow, and a substantial number of people, whatever their reasons, will continue to refuse to set foot in the place. Whether that number is substantial enough to keep UFCW grocery personnel from taking what they see as a giant step backwards, I can't say, but I'm rather hoping it is, if only because, well, I'm not the sort of person who roots for Godzilla and Goliath, even if that is the way to bet.