So, Wal-Mart is coming to town! Isn't that great news? Campbellton is certain to become a true shopping destination now, and who knows what other benefits will accrue. I am certain that great celebrations will be held when this addition to our local merchandising scene is ready to open its doors. Doubtless, local politicians and business leaders will line up to cut ribbons, to pose for photo opportunities and to extol the virtues of a company which exists only to bring lower prices and better choices to consumers. It will be a great day for nearly everyone locally when Wal-Mart is open for business. I did say, "for NEARLY everyone."
I wonder what the people who run Zellers or SAAN are thinking these days? I wonder whether anyone, especially those who made the decision to invite Wal-Mart to the area, even thought about these businesses and others like them.
Oh, I know we live in a tough world. Politicians, business leaders and industry spokespeople have been telling us that nothing matters any more except the economic bottom line. Thus we have the Premier of Nova Scotia telling us that we do not warrant a share of natural gas from his province if we cannot afford to buy the same quantities at the same prices that those in the United States are prepared to pay. Thus we are told, time and again, that unless we can compete, one on one, with the megaliths, we do not deserve consideration. There is no room for sentiment out there. If it should happen that these other companies are driven out of business, then it is only natural, is it not? Isn't this simply an economic version of "survival of the fittest?"
I wonder how I would be feeling right now if I were the chief executive of a local company which has persisted in the area for years, facing hard times and rarely making a strong profit, yet feeling a sense of commitment to the community, if I were faced with the reality that this same community was turning its collective back on me now.
Make no mistake: when Wal-Mart opens its doors, many others will be shutting theirs. The idea that, somehow, this company will generate new customers, new business, new economic growth, is simply a fallacy. There is only a limited number of customers out there and if they spend their money in one place, they will not have it to spend elsewhere. All that Wal-Mart will accomplish is to direct this finite amount to itself, at the expense of other stores which surely deserve something better than oblivion.
I do have to wonder why we persist in doing this to ourselves. Someone opens a new business and it experiences some success, so half a dozen others follow. The end result is always the same: most of them go out of business and the others are taken over by some national or multinational company. And then we wonder why no local people seem prepared to invest locally. Would you, knowing that your neighbours, your fellow citizens and members of the community, will turn their backs on you as soon as someone with a bigger, brighter, more glitzy advertising campaign comes sailing into the area?
In itself, I have nothing against Wal-Mart or any other phenomenally successful business. However, I have to think that the way to build a strong, vibrant community is to recognise, accept, and patronise those people who have demonstrated commitment to that community over the long haul. These people have stuck it out over the years; does anyone out there seriously believe that Wal-Mart will do the same, should the economy turn even more steeply downwards than it has in recent months?
In the end, we get what we deserve, I guess. It remains to see just what that will be in this instance. However, for what it is worth - and that may not be a great deal, given that I don't do a huge amount of shopping myself - I do not intend to be in the opening day frenzy when the big day arrives.
In fact, I have no intentions of spending any money there at all. I will try to support local people - that is, if any of them are able to remain in business after this latest blow to their already precarious financial situations.