The year was 2001. There was a group of activists asking for signatures to petition against a CVS pharmacy being constructed on the corner of 42nd St and 10th Ave. In general, I think that a list of signatures has accomplished about as much to change policy as a police drawing has led to the apprehension of the suspect. Yet, I stopped to ask the crowd why they were opposed to the new store. Was it the increased selection? The better prices? The greater chance for employment?
Their answer: "It'll put the small businesses out of business." They added, "It destroys the integrity of the neighborhood."
Now I'm as compassionate as the next guy (as long as the next guy isn't petitioning signatures), and I'd feel bad if ma and pa were run out of town. But the truth be told, it wasn't exactly like the one small drug store in the neighborhood was offering any warm and friendly personal service. They had a lousy selection, poor service and high prices. Nevertheless, this petition had over 500 signatures. It did nothing.
In 2002, the CVS opened. It replaced a burnt out building, improving the look of the corner to the point where three other business have sprouted up and are doing well. The neighborhood is thriving better than ever.
Now I'll bet every one of those people who signed that petition thought they were champions of the underdog. And I'll bet something else. I'll bet every one of them shopped at the new CVS once it opened.
(As for the petitioners themselves, I think I saw them just last week looking for signatures to stop the unethical treatment of free-range chickens).
This is the way it is in the Hell's Kitchen area. Oops, sorry... I mean Clinton. It's filled with do-gooders and community activists who see any capitalist venture as something evil. It's the reason that idiotic movie Supersize Me was such a hit. That was the "documentary" where the "film-maker" ate nothing but McDonald's every meal for a month and became ill, "proving" the maliciousness of the company. Of course he admittedly was sedentary the entire time. I have news for you -- if you ate nothing but celery for a month and were completely sedentary you'd probably be a lot sicker. That doesn't make celery bad. But this is the thinking. Find a villain; go about vilifying, and every advocate who sees him or herself, as a champion of the people will step in line.
And a favorite villain is the biggest conglomerate of all. It's the virtual evil empire of big business -- WAL-MART. It's said they're run by religious-right zealots whose union supports hard-line Republicans and have a lobby so strong they may attempt to take over every aspect of government. That may be so. But the prices! Ya can't beat 'em!!!
I've honestly had it up to my eyeballs with getting ripped off by the small grocery stores in the city. It's ironic that a progressive as New York is, it's the last place where new merchandise is showcased. That's because each store only holds so much. There's only room for the favorites, which equates to every store having the same exact thing. At twice the price you can get it outside the city. Enough already.
There is so much undeveloped land on the west side I'm sure that in 20 years people will wonder why it wasn't utilized sooner. Well, I have the perfect solution to replace those warehouses, auto body shops, parking lots and sleazy strip joints. A WAL-MART super store! Instead of paying two dollars for a can of soda, you can buy a case of 12 for $5.49. Instead of picking up a bottle of dishwashing liquid at the local deli for $4.95, you can stock up and buy four bottles for the same price. A four pack of men's underwear that goes for $14 in most places is $9 at the big WM. A filet mignon is over ten bucks at the Food Emporium. At WAL-MART, you get TWO for $5.97. A set of drinking glasses for $2. Soap for 40 cents a bar. The same $595 bicycle I saw in a bike shop in town was going for $189! Who has a problem with this? And why? Because of WAL-MART'S alleged political ties? I could care less. I vote, or don't vote for whomever I want and no body and no business is going to change that. Besides, how do I know ma and pa vote the right way?
Some will say they won't shop there out of principle. Fine. Be a chump. Pay more. Hand your hard earned money over to strangers. After a while, you'll see the light. One valid criticism is that New York has already become too gentrified and too homogenized. True. I'd love to see a return to the magnificence of both old world and ultra modern architecture. But between the ugly, uninspired buildings going up and a Starbucks every fifteen feet, it isn't like we're heading in a better direction. So why not provide for the populace?
At the end of the day, it really doesn't have to do with supporting the "little guy." All businesses are made up of little guys. And even the tiny, family-owned business answer to the big corporations at some level. So it's really just a matter of which middleman you want to deal with. A WAL-MART would be a tremendous boon to the city and its economy. It'll also offer more opportunities for employment than a hundred small family owned stores.
Sorry ma. Sorry pa. Nice try. But unless you're willing to help pay for my son's tuition, I'm going with the better deal. And so will most New Yorkers. So start building! Make it big! In fact, have one on the east side and west side. One downtown and uptown.
All I ask is that they leave enough room for an IHOP. That'd be awesome.
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