Wednesday, September 15, 2010


"One of the things that strikes me is so many of the critics are people whose lifestyle doesn't change when the price of fuel changes, or if they keep a Wal-Mart store out of their area."
-Lee Scott

Walter Mead writing at his Via Meadia blog has a couple of good points about Wal*Mart which are sure to get him grief at the next cocktail party. First, he notes that, living in Queens, the prices are much higher than at Wal*Mart:
Everything in those stores is significantly cheaper than in the hoity-toity New York department stores that want me to pay $9 and up for a “designer” undershirt. For the price of a pair of socks in New York I can get three pairs at the average Walmart.

As I pushed my enormous shopping cart through the grocery aisles last night, I felt like an immigrant from the Soviet Union: so many choices, such convenience, such friendly staff, such low prices! Milk that costs $2.50 in the glamorous borough of Queens costs $1.16
chez the Mart. Soup, bread, cereal: all are 40% to 50% cheaper out here.
Sure, you might feel low class or mock the people who shop there (although some day I'd love to do a photo essay of the local Wal*Marts showing off the babes who shop there - they ain't all freaks and whales) but you can't deny the good deals, and in days like this, its time to swallow your pride and pinch a few pennies. And if you live in a costly big city, that cheap stuff is really a breath of fresh air.

Mead mentions "green guilt" like a good New York lefty, but then brings up something generally ignored by the left: superstores are lighter on the ecology than boutiques and specialty shops. He explains:
Walmart’s ruthless focus on reducing prices is driving producers everywhere to cut the costs of production: to switch to cheaper materials, use less packaging, cut down on waste of all kinds and to consolidate and rationalize both production and distribution. The result is a steady and inexorable decline in humanity’s impact on the environment for every unit of GDP.
More, by doing what so many of its critics hate and driving small mom and pop stores out of business, Walmart is making the planet greener still. It is much more energy-efficient to have one large store that receives large shipments than to have dozens of little trucks roaming the highways and byways with small deliveries to small retailers. It is also more efficient to have consumers come to one store for all their needs rather than having them drive all over creation — to the farmer’s market for the local rutabagas, to the small appliance and notion store for the toaster, to the pharmacy for the drugs, the optometrist for their glasses, to the butcher and baker and candlestick maker for everything else.
Add to that the push for people to shop online and you've got a huge influence on consumer activity which actually is less polluting and damaging to the environment than those beloved little shops the left prefers. The mega store is even working at shifting their entire trucking fleet over to hybrid electric/diesel and liquid natural gas trucks to save fuel (and cost in the long run).

Honestly I prefer mom and pop stores too. I love the main street idea with the soda fountain and the clerk who knows my name. I'd love to shop that kind of place, but I don't love paying 3-5 times as much per product to do it, and that's what it takes. And lets be honest, the main street guy isn't a friendly grocer who knows your name and remembers your last order; he's some punk kid with a nose stud chained to his nipple ring who barely remembers how to spell his own name.

Of course, Mead can't help but bash Wal*Mart a while too, for trying to keep prices down and not being unionized, but he kind of has to in order to protect his credentials. But he's right: the monster is actually better for the world than the princess. Dragons are part of the environment, the princess just keeps littering the place with kissed frogs and lost sequins from her gown, demanding more.


eric said...

I live in a town with very few chain restaraunts and a lot of mom-n-pop greasy spoon diners. What you get at these places is not superior food or superior service (usually you get decent food and lousy service), you just get "character", which is to say your waitress is too old, large, toothless, and ugly to ever get hired by a chain outfit, and she flirts with you a lot because she hasn't had sex in 34 years. That and a generally dismissive attitude about smoking laws are about the only things you "gain" as a consumer from frequenting mom-and-pop stores! I enjoy the novelty of it, but if there was an Outback Steakhouse in town you can be I'd take my business there as often as not.

Larry Sheldon said...

Let me add a bit that most people don't see.

I have driven OTR (Over The Road) trucks--which is to say I have driven every where and not just for one company like Walmart.

One of the nightmares of OTR driving is when the legal end of your driving day (let's say 11 hours since you started--it's more complicated than that) or you realize that you are too tired to
continue. What to do?

Most places are prety hostile to truckers just parking for the legally mandated ten hours (or perhaps physically mandated longer) rest.

And there are not nearly enough truck stops and not nearly enough parking places. There are parts of the country where there are NONE.

If you can find a Walmart and you ask the manager on-duty you can almost always get permission to park in a distant corner of their lot for your break. (Drivers have abused a few and they quite properly will refuse--but they are rare.)

Why do they do that? Several reasons come to mind, from that's just the way they do things (ask where the diabetics in the Katrina catastrophe got insulin--or where others got food and water. The answer is the Walmart managers salvaged what they could and gave it away) to they have discovered that truckers need supplies and when they can park close to a store, they go into the store and buy lots of stuff.

Larry Sheldon said...

And the Walmart nearest my home (also near a huge Target and a huge Bakers (Kroger) is surrounded by little stores of all kinds that were not there before they moved into the area.

Inside the Walmart there is a row of little shops, some that have stayed and thrived, some that didn't make it and were replaced.