Sunday, September 09, 2007

We the sheeple, or why I don't do Big Box.

Moving past boarded up small shops, little hardware stores, plumbing supplies centres , I am more than saddened at the passing of these small landmarks of a slower pace of life. These old corner store reliables with their personal touch - the proprietor knowing the customers, their likes and dislikes along with their hatchings, matchings and dispatchings, now all ending in an inconspicuous death rattle - strangled by the creeping virus of Big Box Blobbery.

The outskirts of every town is now looking just about the same. Even the restaurants are just about all chains, plonked down in the competitive sprawl of feuding chainstores, Mike’s, Kelsey’s, Australian Outback, Boston Pizza.

Maybe it’s me. I just can’t bear those monolithic impersonal yawning caverns of endless aisles and know-nothing student staffers (oops, ‘associates’). I resolved, four years ago now, that I would never darken the doorway of a Walmart, Home Depot, et al, again. Since then I have watched the documentary “The High Cost of Low Price” which explores the rotten underbelly of the business practices of Walmart and other such chains.

I don’t feel particularly virtuous about this resolution of mine. It is fairly self-serving. I like the little stores, the personal attention, the “I’ll order it in for you.” I can wait. The first sign of maturity after all is deferred gratification and that has been one of my bugaroos all my life: immediate satisfaction. So if I can wait until (s)he orders it in I can bask a little in the arms of my own ‘I’m all grown up now, mother’ state.

Little bookstores are another victim of the super-large cavernous virus. How few of these are left, I wonder. I counted one in downtown St. John’s, very few in downtown Toronto. Indigo and Chapters have taken over, along with Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Is this a good thing? I do use Amazon along with Abe’s for used and out of print. Am I part of the problem then?

Recently I read a book called “The King’s English” which I highly recommend, about the survival of a small bookstore in the states. Against all odds. So it is possible to buck the sweeping incoming tide of impersonality.

The world is getting more and more cookie-cutter. I keep thinking we are not too far away from “Soylent Green” the movie that predicts a future of blank sameness, even to our food, even when we run out of food.

Big Corp along with Big Pharm and Big Agro are slowly seeping into our very souls, our governments have already been swallowed up by them – some more than others.

Some days, like today, I feel kind of hopeless about it all.

Other days, I just concentrate on my own path and what I can do to make a difference. To keep bucking the system and step back and say “wait a minute, here!”


  1. Hmmm, I'm divided on this one, www. Yes I like the little stores with their personal service and their individuality (I've worked for several small bookshops and it was a great atmosphere) but I also like the sheer range of stuff in the big stores and being able to get something instantly without waiting three weeks for it to come in. I think the real problem is that so many of the big stores are now monopolies that many high streets are just identical rows of them and towns have lost their character completely.

    Loved the sign in the picture. One of the UK unions, Unite, has just warned about the increasing trend back to casualisation of labour which was such a scandal in the early 20th century. Many companies are slashing their permanent staff and using more casual staff with much worse pay and working conditions.

  2. Hi WWW

    I LOVE that sign! There's a chain store called Australian Outback? What does it sell, red dust? The current purchasing protocols provide me with all the incentive I need to avoid consuming. I buy only what I need and can get most of it from my organic suppliers and the charming little health food shop within walking distance. I do use my local use my local 'Tesco'. It was the original location of the market stall that became Britain's biggest supermarket. The staff are lovely. The shop is always threatened with closure and many disabled people would be left without ready access to a supermarket if it were to go. Besides, one still needs toilet paper.

    I agree that we all should buck the system as much as possible. I have a policy of non-cooperation with retail intrusion and resist all efforts to get me to part with personal information.



  3. Nick:
    I guess it is the creeping tide of blandness that bothers me and the unquestioning participation by most in it's tenacious claws. The meaningless and worthless accumulation of Chinese tchotchkes that seem to preoccupy so many. I see so much of it here. Yes, the lack of a decent living wage is part of the problem of these creeping behemoths, not to mention our (as tax payers) hidden subsidisations of their dreadful employee policies (enormous corporate tax concessions and government health & welfare benefits to the impoverished employees).

  4. Pants:
    Australian Outback: It's actually a chain of restaurants, don't you just love these laughable names? Those restaurants stuck in a tide of Big Box Blobbery with their names so far removed from the reality of what they are?
    I agree - I shop small and local and try to follow the 100 mile rule as to sourcing of the product but it is becoming increasingly more difficult...

  5. Hi WWW

    Does it sell kangaroo and crocodile meat?



  6. The food in Australian Outback is not nice at all.
    WWW, I completely agree with you. I shop in small specialty stores until I am completely sure that I can't find what I am looking for in anywhere else but the ones in the big malls, or the big shop itself.
    I support the local butcher wherever I am, the local gorcery store, the little bookstore.
    Plus, I really dislike the mall culture, dressing up to go to the hypersupermegamall, kids hanging out all over the place checking each other out, nothing to do but shop... I like the downtowns, the little cafes and shops looking out to the streets, not one giant building with next to no character, a huge car park. Ugh. It's a scary picture you painted here and I am afraid that's the reality of it. All we can do is just do our little bit to support little businesses. Shop in their little shops, as you said.

  7. Pants:
    Only that it did! More like Mac/steak/chicken/ribs, indistinguishable frankenfood.

    Love the word 'hypersupermegamall'!
    I find we also have an obsession with new stuff when the old can have character and a positive effect on the environment. I love my mismatched china from Goodwill!
    I've picked up cast iron pots and utensils from yard sales and convert old sheets into throws and curtains.
    We all need more connection these days and can fulfil that need by shopping the little local places and getting to know our neighbourhood.....

  8. "We all need more connection these days" Absolutely!


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