Wal-Mart R Us?

I’ve never bought anything from Wal-Mart. I’ve never even been in a Wal-Mart.

When I say this, some people respond with “Good for you!” I demur: I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve been anywhere near a Wal-Mart, excluding 70-mile-an-hour glimpses from the nearest highway. Self-restraint has nothing to do with it.

We don’t have Wal-Marts on Martha’s Vineyard. The closest thing we’ve got to a big box store (I’ve never been in one of those either) is probably Island Cash & Carry, and that’s not close at all. We don’t have fast food either. Before I left D.C., I was grabbing fried chicken at Roy Rogers two or three times a week. Most of the slow food restaurants on Martha’s Vineyard were, and are, too expensive to contemplate, so my culinary repertoire expanded beyond bread. In some ways, I’m certainly better off for living on Martha’s Vineyard, but, again, virtue has nothing to do with it.

Photo plucked off Facebook. Line of transmission fuzzy. If you know where it originated, let me know.

Wal-Mart is bad news. I like to think that I wouldn’t shop at Wal-Mart even if there were one within driving distance. Does this make me virtuous? Not sure. On one hand, I’ve got the New England frugal gene. I’m a lousy consumer and I don’t have kids, which tends to up one’s need for stuff,  especially cheap stuff. On the other, I figured out a long time ago that “cheap” comes at a price, and that often that price is (a) high, and (b) paid by people who are out of my sight and therefore easy to not-see.

Also plucked from FB. Source wanted!

Stuff is often cheap because it’s made by people who are being paid a pittance for their labor. Short-sighted employers — those who see nothing but the bottom line — love cheap labor, unorganized labor, labor that has no recourse and no alternative to taking what the bosses are offering. People in the South once welcomed such employers with tax breaks, cheap land, and cheap labor. They don’t think it’s so great when such employers go overseas or across the border in search of even better perks.

The liberal affluenza, I’ve noticed, loves to hate Wal-Mart. This may be because they, like me, have no occasion to go there. I detect more ambivalence, however, where Amazon. com (to pick another behemoth) is concerned. Amazon is not exactly a poster child for enlightened employer practices. I’ve had a serious grudge against Amazon ever since they threatened to sue Amazon Bookstore in Minneapolis for the use of the name, even though Amazon Bookstore had been using the name for more than two decades before the World Wide Web was invented.

For years I wouldn’t buy anything from Amazon. Finally convenience won out: these days I do patronize it, but as infrequently as I can. To judge by the parcels changing hands at the p.o. in my excruciatingly right-on liberal town, plenty of others do likewise. If you live on Martha’s Vineyard, boycotting Amazon.com is harder than boycotting Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart and other giant retailers of cheap stuff are renowned for cheapskatery: they don’t pay much, and they bend over backwards to keep workers’ hours under the threshold that would require them to offer benefits. I’ve lived long enough on Martha’s Vineyard that this by itself doesn’t shock me: every job I’ve had on Martha’s Vineyard has paid by the hour, offered no benefits, and come with the understanding that as “the season” draws to a close, hours will be cut, sometimes to nothing. The big difference is that, unlike the owners of Wal-Mart and other giant retailers, most Vineyard employers are not rich and getting richer by the minute.

At the same time, plenty of Vineyard workers aren’t any better off than the workers at Wal-Mart. But it’s easier to obsess about Wal-Mart than to think about employment practices closer to home.

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About Susanna J. Sturgis

Susanna edits for a living, writes to survive, and has two blogs going on WordPress. "From the Seasonally Occupied Territories" is about being a year-round resident of Martha's Vineyard. "Write Through It" is about writing, editing, and how to keep going.
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7 Responses to Wal-Mart R Us?

  1. daveparent says:

    Kind of another interesting talking point about Walmart is now in the news as there are people protesting “black Friday”

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  2. daveparent says:

    I love Walmart and pretty much make a trip there every time I go “off island”. I have to comment on the island businesses not being wealthy. There was an article in the paper about the cronigs guy buying a million dollar building just so stop and shop couldn’t expand. Guy just dishes out a mil to get an edge. That’s a big chunk of change lying around to stop another business from expanding. Tells me he’s worth a pretty penny. I probably dislike cronigs as much as you dislike Walmart. The prices in there are astronomical. I think I saw ten dollars for a thing of broccoli. Sure it’s organic and green and yada yada but come on. Everyone complains about the gas prices here. Cronigs takes the cake as far as I’m concerned. And I don’t see anything wrong with grabbing three things of shampoo at Walmart when they are three bucks each vs one for ten at cronigs. Just my opinion ! Thanks for the article.

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    • Hoo boy, don’t get me started about Cronig’s. I do my grocery shopping at Reliable, even though up-island Cronig’s is a lot closer to where I live. What really bugs me about Wal-Mart and plenty of other big retailers is that they keep their prices low on the backs of the people who work there. The owners are not hurting. This is also true of some island businesses. You can’t afford to work for them unless you have a trust fund or some other source of income — or you’re extremely frugal and willing to do without. Thanks for the reality check!

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  3. Sharon Stewart says:

    Wal-Mart apparently earns $100 million a week (old statistic). Surely there’s room in there somewhere to pay employees decently. A Wal-Mart in Jonquière, Quebec, closed down rather than let its employees become unionized. Another reason I dislike Wal-Mart is that it accepts only sanitized versions of books, CDs, movies, etc. I don’t really care for a department store playing censor. And I think Wal-Mart controls about 40% of the market for these goods, so it’s not an insignificant player.

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  4. Juleann says:

    A fast-food clarification needed: the island does have a Dairy Queen (you probably don’t get to Edgartown often . . .).

    And, in this vein of thought it seems appropriate to mention Apple — a corporate giant who is rapidly working its way up my “love to hate” list.

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    • This is true, and it’s been there forever, but I never think of DQ as having food. All I’ve ever gotten there is ice cream.

      Too bad about Apple. OTOH, it’s not fair for us PC users to have all the fun hating Microsoft. 😉

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