Big Box Stores - Walmart, Trader Joes, and saving money
Shell devotes a chapter to the destruction of mom-and-pop stores by big box stores such as Walmart. Small stores go out of business because they cannot compete with Walmart's low prices. The big-box store provides less customer service because it dehumanizes its employees.
Up until about a year ago, I would agree with Shell's assessment of Walmart. However, in the past two years, Walmart is selling locally produced food (grown within the state) in its store. While some people might quibble that within a state is not local, it is still more local than Mexico, Holland, or Canada, and it does boost the economy of the state. It also may provide a higher quality product at a lower price.
In addition, while I do not shop at Walmart (I've never been in one) I do know people who are regular Walmart customers. Last night, as I was buying cat litter in my local supermarket, a man checking out bird seed told me that he normally buys a month's worth of pet food at Walmart and only comes into the supermarket if he runs out of food before the next shopping day. We discussed a local pet food warehouse where I shop for cat food, and he told me that the Walmart prices are still lower. He estimated that he saved $500/year at Walmart - a significant savings. We both agreed that the supermarket was twice as expensive as the other stores and that it was taking unfair advantage of the many people in the neighborhood who own pets and did not have cars or time to take the highly unreliable bus to the petfood warehouse.
On one hand, I agree that big box stores can be soulless. On the other hand, $500 saved could make a difference between getting veterinarian care for a pet or waiting out a potentially fatal pet illness. The same issue can apply to people who buy their medicine from Walmart- they may want to buy at a small store but they may need the savings they get from using Walmart. It is easy to advocate using more expensive local alternatives if you have a good income.
The same issues can be applied to Trade Joes. There have been recent protests outside of NYC Trader Joes because of the ethics of their produce suppliers (suppliers who also supply the NYC area supermarkets). Once again, the issue (at least here in Queens) is whether to buy pricey goods at local supermarkets who are using the same suppliers but have a lower media profile, buy cheaper items at Trader Joes, or resign yourself to a lengthy trip via subway to a farmers market to buy a week's worth of produce. Is it wrong to look for the cheaper alternative when there is no real viable ethical alternative?
In addition, it looks as though supplying health care for employees under the new health care plan may make it even harder for mom-and-pop store to stay in business. Big box stores will have an easier time although their profits may drop. With this health care bill, consumers may have little say in the survival of small stores in their community.