America has always been a country where freedom has been treasured. Freedom is the most basic, valued principle that America was founded on. Whenever a threat looms, it is the cry and demand for freedom that pulls at the heartstrings of all Americans and moves them to action. Any threat to freedom is, in essence, a threat to America. This is usually interpreted as only a military threat, but there is another form the threat could take that is equally dangerous: an economic threat. This is why there are laws against monopolies so that one company never has an unfair advantage over another. Freedom, equal opportunity for all. Enter the world of big box retailers. These companies are the biggest and most profitable there are to be found in America the cornerstones of American economic prosperity. Some people, however, contest that the negatives of having a big box retailer in your town far outweigh the positives. Over the years and through many debates and conflicts it has become apparent that, no matter how beneficial big box retailers are to America, they have an overall negative effect on the American people.
Some of the negative aspects of big box retailers can be seen in the effects on the environment and economy.
Pollution has always been a big concern for anyone who has seen films or pictures from some of the Southeast Asian countries, where smog sometimes fills the whole sky of cities. Indeed, pollution is a terrible thing, but unfortunately it is a real concern for our modern times. There is always a price to pay for advancing, and in many cases that price is the creation of harmful substances to the environment around us, and sometimes even to us. One shocking example of this happened not so long ago right here in the United States, when one of the five great lakes, Lake Erie, was so full of pollution around Cleveland that almost all of the wildlife died and people could literally walk across the top of the pollution on the lake. Obviously, nobody wants anything like this to ever happen again. Fortunately, the lake was eventually cleaned up, but the damage was done, both to the environment and to the psyche and mindset of the American people. Some people see big box retailers as a cause of much pollution, and for some people thats all they need to hear in order to be eternally opposed against big box retailers. While the reality of the situation may not be bad enough to cause another Lake Erie incident, research has shown that enough pollution is caused by big box retailers to warrant some concern (Erlenmacher 10). Research has also shown that pollution in California from big box retailers costs $200 million every year to clean up (Smith 73). This number is way too large for many peoples tastes, and it can be seen why there are people out there lobbying against big box retailers.
A second major concern centering on big box retailers is the amount of traffic they bring to areas incapable of handling it. Many times big box retailers build their stores in small towns that dont have any other stores like them. These towns arent used to seeing much traffic at all, much less the traffic that big stores inevitably bring in. This increase of traffic causes long traffic backups, and causes a general headache to everyone unfortunate enough to be driving at the time, especially the people who happen to be living nearby. People with children have to remember to be much more careful than they were before the retailer moved in and make sure their small children stay away from the busy streets, and it makes life overall a much bigger hassle than it was in years past. It is harder for people to sleep at night or enjoy a quiet moment, and basically makes life more unpleasant. Jack Stong said in an interview that living in a small town before the Lowes moved in was almost everything I could ask for peaceful and quiet. After the Lowes came in, though, the noise level went up 100% and destroyed a lot that made the town special to me in the first place (Jack Stong interview).
It is also seen that this increased traffic has a direct effect on everyones safety. Research shows that police response times can go up by as much as 600% from what they were before the retailer moved in and jammed all of the streets (Kunstler 106). Not only is this a major annoyance, it can also be quite harmful in an indirect way to people needing assistance quickly. A different study showed that from 1980 to 1990 commuting times in California increased 13% (Kunstler 210). Certainly no small thing, the issue of increasing traffic only adds to the bad taste in the mouths of many Americans.
One last major economic and environmental concern is that of urban sprawl. This is a huge point that many people use to argue against big box retailers. Urban sprawl is basically where the cities spread outward at a tremendous rate, consuming farmland and forests alike. Big box retailers are the main cause of urban sprawl. Since there are so many big box retailers across the country, and because many downtown cities dont have sufficient space to hold the buildings the companies want, the retailers buy huge tracts of land that previously had farmland or forests and build there. This is an inexpensive way for retailers to build relatively close to large cities, as opposed to having to build downtown, which would cost much more. However, as so as the companies build in a place, it is like a domino effect. Other businesses set up there to take advantage of the many customers the retailers bring in. When they set up, many people also build housing nearby so they can travel to work easier or so they can take advantage of the close proximity of all the new businesses. This, in effect, creates a miniature city of itself, with businesses, homes, schools, libraries, police stations, and hospitals all building there (Morris 39). This may seem like a good thing, but the consequences of this are that huge amounts of previously free land are now being taken over, and many habitats are being destroyed. Forests, swamps, and fields all make way for big businesses.
Now that some of the cons were revealed, there are also many benefits to having a big box retailer in a community. One of the largest, most obvious of these is, of course, that of helping the communities to grow.
There are hundreds of small towns in America today, where one would be lucky to even find a delivery pizza place, much less a big box retailer (Morris 37). These towns dont have many residents, and those that do live there usually have to travel far to reach a store that has everything they might need or want. Big box retailers are a solution to this problem. When they set up in a small town, not only do they bring many more choices and much more convenience to the people of that town, but it has been seen that wherever big box retailers go, those towns tend to grow in size. For many small towns struggling with revenues and support from their citizens, big box retailers are a good thing (Mazur 16).
Another benefit of having a big box retailer move in is that it provides more jobs for the people living in that community. Some people are born in a town and live there for their whole life, because they cant find any money or opportunities to get out. While working at a big box retailer may not be everyones first choice of a job, it certainly isnt the worst job out there. The wage is usually a dollar or mare than minimum wage, and most provide some kind of health insurance coverage (Mazur 17). People also have an opportunity to move up in the organization, gaining more and more benefits and higher wages. Big box retailers are also a great place for high school and college students to work part time while theyre focusing on their studies. Approximately 65% of jobs found at a K-Mart are part time positions (Cain np). This creates great opportunity for part time job seekers to have a good, low-stress job to work at while theyre away from classes.
A final benefit of having a big box retailer is that it brings outside money into the community. While big box retailers sometimes give less money back to the community than local businesses, they gain a much larger sum of money, so either way the community prospers. If a Wal-Mart is built in a town where there arent any other Wal-Marts for fifty miles around, that Wal-Mart will get the business from everyone living closest to it. Many people will even go to the Wal-Mart who always used to drive farther away to do their major shopping (Jack Stong interview). This helps keep the money in the community and benefits the people who paid, rather than someone living in another city.
While there are disputably many benefits to having a big box retailer nearby, the number of possible consequences still looks more imposing. In addition to the environmental and economic consequences, there are also many, subtler sentimental effects that the presence of a big box retailer has on the people living in the town. One major one is that it destroys the special small town feeling that exists in many communities.
Small towns have always been known for having a special aura that many of the big cities cannot hope to obtain. There is something peaceful about driving through a town of 2500 people and seeing things that make is special. There is a sense of history, of everyone knowing each other, a family atmosphere that sets them aside from any larger town or city (Jack Stong interview). Many of these small towns also have something that they are proud of, some unique claim to fame that no other town can match. The tranquillity of a small town in America is very pervasive and real, but big box retailers destroy much of that special feeling. Placing a large store right in the middle of a small town is very noticeable and obtrusive. It really detracts from that towns special feeling, that sense of their own identity that has always been there (Cain np). To many people who live in cities, this may not seem like such a big deal. But many other people who do live in these small towns use this as their most persuasive argument one that touches a soft spot inside every American who has ever lived in a small town. For these small towns, their identity or claim to fame is a very serious issue, and when a Wal-Mart or any other big box retailer wants to build there, many of the residents will argue wholeheartedly against it for this one reason, regardless of the potential economic benefits (walmartwatch.com). It is an argument that has caused much frustration in many of the big box retailers, and the solution continues to elude them today.
A different and perhaps more concrete argument against big box retailers is that there is less diversity when they move into town. While at first it would seem that big box retailers do diversify the selection of goods the community has to choose from because of their large warehouses, time has shown that this is untrue (Hamilton E2). In fact, when big box retailers move into town, their low prices and convenience oftentimes causes many of the other local businesses of the town to have to close down (Hamilton E2). This definitely detracts from the quaintness of the town, because there is a mystique about a locally run business that is unique. In addition to that, it also creates less competition and much less diversity in the town, because now instead of having several different locally run businesses, you have just one big box retailer that is pretty much the same in any location throughout the country (sprawl-busters.com).
One last consequence of a big box retailer is that they create less freedom of speech. This can be seen primarily in the music section of a big box retailer. Because of worried parents, many big box retailers were forced to impose censors on much of their CDs and cassettes (Smith 56). While some might argue that this is a good thing, many others are angry at the fact that they arent able to buy and listen to a song how it was meant to be listened to. This takes away from the feeling of the song, and instead creates a shadow of the former song that many refuse to even listen to because it is in their minds – musically inferior to the real version.
Despite many of the protests, big box retailers remain an integral part of the American economy, both within its borders and in other countries. Yet, it can be clearly seen that despite the many advantages that can be gained from big box retailers, there are still many consequences that people just dont want to have to deal with. While big box retailers in themselves arent a horrible thing, there should be a way to lower the number of cons associated with having a big box retailer in a town. Only then will they be fully accepted and welcomed into every aspect of American life, and then everyone will be better off for it.