Jennifer Moonsong General Manager Metcalfe/Monroe Division – Last week I was at the Campbellsville Walmart walking a cart back to the cart return, when a visibly agitated employee pulled the cart briskly from my hand and stomped away. Remembering himself a second later, he turned to look back at me and said, “I’m sorry. I’m not upset with you, I have just been here working the whole parking lot for seven hours without any help at all.”
He went on to tell me that a couple of months ago when the nationwide chain added all of the new, shiny (and often dysfunctional) self-service check outs that many of his colleagues were “let go”.
We’ve all heard such on the nightly news, but for me hearing this man’s story brought it closer to home.
When I started out in rural journalism over a decade ago there was a lot of talk about the death of downtown businesses, and discussions and articles about how the big retail stores such as Walmart, Kmart, Kroger’s, and Lowe’s were killing the little man. It was the proverbial struggle between David and Goliath.
Fortunately, over the past decade a lot of effort has been applied to the resurgence of small businesses in communities such as ours and the revival of downtown squares. It has been a very good thing, not only for small business persons, but also for the community at large. Nothing is more heartwarming that seeing neatly appointed old downtown buildings with cars out front and the lights on.
Although I strive to always buy locally whenever possible, there are always a few things that you have to retrieve from places like Walmart and the Dollar Store, I have tried to remember that although they are part of a large corporation they do employee local people, but the tides are shifting.
If you had told me a decade ago that I would be reading and writing about the possible death of big retail stores, I would never have believed it. At this point in history I see it as a real possibility. Cause of death? Online shopping
We have already seen this happening. In recent times the Glasgow Kmart closed along with Sears. The Save-A-Lot in Monroe County closed last year, and now the one in Metcalfe has also closed its doors. Toys R Us is no more.
Don’t get me wrong, Walmart and its contemporaries will be around for a long time, but they won’t exist as they have. It is such closings that have prompted the existing chain stores to make the changes we are seeing now.
There will be very few employees, because machines will take their places and I suspect that if things continue to shift to online commerce, more people we will be doing their bidding that way. Many people see it as a great convenience, to be able to order anything from a starter for their car to nail polish in the comfort of their own home. I’m sure it has its virtues, but in my opinion this way of doing things is far more villainous than virtuous.
With that said, small local businesses are more important now than ever before. I can’t speak for everyone, but I know that I am personally not ready for a world where I do all of my shopping by typing a few keys on the computer or iPhone.
Even if it can bring exactly what I want to my door, it cannot replace the human aspect. It may well be the way of the future, but it is not the American way. America was built by families with trades that used their skills, goods and services to sustain themselves and others.
In small towns like ours we have to return to that model as much as we can. It’s not only what builds little towns like ours, it is what propels them forward.
For centuries the story of David and Goliath has remained unchanged. Ten years ago Goliath was big retail chains, but a bigger Goliath emerged. Today, Goliath is automation and the online marketplace.
David is still small business, and places that employ local people. The important thing is that we don’t forget how the story goes; it’s a hard fight, but the little man wins.