Monday, December 7, 2009

Big-Box Swindle - A book review

Following on the tails of my latest read, The Way We Eat: Why our Food Choices Matter, Stacy Mitchell's Big-Box Swindle: The True Cost of Mega-Retailers and the Fight for America's Independent Businesses (2006), was not an intentional companion to Singer and Mason's book on food ethics, but certainly a fated one. Both published in 2006, where The Way We Eat was a primer on all that encompasses the ethics of eating, Big-Box Swindle tackles the hard-core realities of what chain stores do to our local communities and economies... and it isn't pretty.

Here are some highlights. Big-Box (aka chain) stores:
  • increase resource demand on local government (fire, police, utility, roads) – studies show that small, local businesses make far less demands on community infrastructure, infrastructure for which its citizens have to pay
  • decrease a sense of community - citizens of towns without big box stores are more active in their communities and local governments
  • decrease job opportunities – contrary to popular opinion, after initial jobs are gained, small businesses are forced to close their doors and in the end more jobs are lost than gained because of the efficiency of big-box stores (they can do more with less people - not to mention less skilled, lower paid people)
  • decrease the amount of revenue changing hands in a community - at least 3 times the amount of money stays in a community when you shop at a locally-owned store; more if you shop direct from a farmer or eat at a local restaurant
  • decrease product quality and push jobs overseas – the incessant demand for lower prices forces suppliers to lower their standards and move jobs overseas or else lose a significant source of income when the big-box refuses to sell from that particular supplier (keep in mind Walmart now accounts for 10% of all retail sales. That's serious power!)
  • increase urban sprawl leading to increased car use and pollution – big-box stores operate on the fringe of communities, unlike small local businesses which tend to be central to the community, located near homes and restaurants.
  • increase the tax burden on local citizens – big-box stores use their size to manipulate local governments into tax breaks which means local businesses and citizens must make up for lost revenue
  • decrease the quality of living – big-box jobs are lower in pay and benefits than jobs at local businesses
  • increase the threat to the environment – every big box stores comes with its own massive parking lot, one of the biggest sources of highly-concentrated water-way pollutants; big-boxes are famous for clear-cutting land and destroying natural habitats
  • decrease individuality by creating cookie-cutter communities
  • decreases personalized customer service – salespeople were once experts on their products and knew their customers likes and dislikes, taking the time to get to know their customers, helping best meet individual customer needs. Big-box associates are reprimanded for spending too much time with customer. Their job is to move product as quickly as possible.
Disgusted? Even knowing some of these things, I felt despondent at all the havoc these chain-stores leave in their wake, the manipulation they calculate behind doors at board meetings. And we're not just talking about Wal-Mart here (though they are the easy fall-guy), but Target, Costco, Barnes and Noble, Kroger, Bed Bath and Beyond, Home Depot, Old Navy, Best Buy, PetSmart - you get the idea - are all culprits.

Interesting to note, was that today's growing anti-chain movement is not the first. In the 20's and 30's politicians actually ran on platforms of preventing big-box expansion.
Opponents argued that chains threatened democracy by undermining local economic independence and community self-determination. As they drove out the local merchant – a “loyal and energetic type of citizen” – the chains replaced him with a manager, a “transient,” who was discouraged from independent thought and community involvement, and who served as “merely a representative of a non-resident group of stockholders who pay him according to his ability to line their pockets with silver.
Wow! Sounds familiar, doesn't it? The bottom line is we've reached that time again, where we as citizens (not consumers) need to take a stand on the future of our communities. Thankfully, the book concludes on a positive note, citing examples of successful anti-chain campaigns. There is hope. But like anything else, the first step is awareness, and that awareness is sorely lacking in the U.S. today.

Big-Box Swindle is a powerful ally in the buy-local movement and a must read for those wanting to live a life of mindful consumption. Don't set foot in another chain-store until you read this book. You (and your community) will be glad you did.

Rated: 4 out of 5 (I'd give it a 5, but it was so full of data, it was at times hard to concentrate - you have to take your time on this one)

Recommended: to anyone who wants to live a more mindful, citizen-driven (not consumer-driven) life
This and tons of other great eco-book reviews can be found at the Blogging Bookworm. Be a bookworm today and check it out!

6 comments:

Tammy said...

I am a vendor. I sell product to several of the stores you site and several you don't. Lack of humanity is most prevalent in two chains--Wal Mart and Kroger. I guess size matters when it comes to losing touch with people. They typically run the best ads, but, the whole thing comes at a very high cost. Wal Mart and the rest often charge vendors for space and position, making it really tough on independent companies "the little guys". So, they get paid for way more than their goods sold...almost like they rent their shelves out to boot.
Meanwhile, vendors give free labor on restocking and delivery so the store doesn't have to do a thing...except complain if everything isn't perfect.
I've been in this business for about fifteen years and overall the job is getting harder. Everyone wants more for less and honestly, people who work hard are becoming a truly scarce commodity.
Anyhow...I'm venting...I'll let it go...it'll be okay...

Heather @ SGF said...

Tammy - Vent away! You'd probably enjoy this book.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
bfggds said...

Waders thus dampened should be opened and hung up so the air can get at them.Hogan Australia Women's Lynnea Clog As pointed out above, Abercrombie and Fitch hogan outlet has significantly expanded their offerings more than the years.Although waterproof hogan may be synonymous with horrible weather and thunderstorms, Onitsuka Tiger Shoes the.Each country often has a juvenile system and the youth hogan camp plays an important role in it.within a nutshell - if you like to maintain on best of trends and you are an early adopter using the product lifecycle, then HOGAN is for you. Franklin and Marshal A woman will usually have two or three hogan shops in one geographic area that she prefers to buy hogan.

Abercrombie and Fitch said...

welcome to our shop,my shop website is hollister milano and Abercrombie and Fitch and Abercrombie and Fitch UK .

all star converse said...

mbt shoes uk,mbt shoes london,mbt shoes uk sale,mbt sale uk,mbt footwear uk,mbt shoes uk clearance,mbt shoes sale,mbt sale,mbt uk shoes

mbt outlet,mbt outlet uk,mbt outlet store,mbt shoes.

Burberry outlet,Burberry outlet Store,Burberry outlet UK,Burberry outlet online UK sale Burberry Bags,Burberry scarf,trench coat, save 67% Off!

all star converse,all star converse prezzi,scarpe converse all star

new era france,Le magasin de France pour New Era Caps,Trouvez une grande variété de Casquettes New Era avec Livraison gratuite disponible dans le village de chapeaux,new era soldes en France online!