The modern day price-busting superstore, such as Wal-Mart or Home Depot, is the 21st century version of the "One Company town," with similar economic, environmental and sociological consequences.
The real problem with any category buster superstore is the concentration of economic power into so few hands. If a Wal-Mart were to install itself, for example, somewhere along the Wilshire corridor in Los Angeles, many of the existing small shop owners would be run out of business.
Furthermore, the profits rarely stay in the local community. When a Wal-Mart store makes a huge profit, that money is sent to the mega-superstore's corporate offices in Arkansas and spent on construction of new mega-superstores, effectively removing wealth from local economies just as the corporate one-company mining town did in the 1880s.
When they place a Wal-Mart superstore within a 5-mile radius of a dilapidated older shopping district, the older district rarely outlasts the super store. So our communities end up with less economic diversity, thus fewer job opportunities, and eventually a more impoverished local economy.
Wal-Mart, yes, provides jobs. But the vast majority of jobs at Wal-Mart could be classified as unskilled labor and are paid from minimum wage up to around $10 or $15 an hour. A commercial district with many small and medium sized businesses creates a more fertile training ground for tomorrow's managers and entrepreneurs than one superstore ever could.
The economic alternative to the superstore phenomenon is the economic diversity of our tried-and-true commercial districts. In these districts, workers have a greater choice about how to earn their daily bread, who to work with and for, as well as alternatives to the alienation of being a cog in a faceless corporation's money machine.
What we are talking about, ultimately, is the engine of entrepreneurial growth in Los Angeles and the rest of America. As we look out over those super stores, we have to ask ourselves how many new management systems are being created, how many new products are being produced, how many people are being educated for more responsibility? The answer is very few.
Bix box stores promote suburban sprawl. That leads to more vehicle dependence with all of the fixed personal and ecological costs of suburban sprawl, starting with increased gas usage and costs for workers, the threat of death and injury during the daily commute and increased pollution from more miles driven in more cars. It troubles me greatly as a descendent of one of this bright city's pioneering mayors that Los Angeles has done nothing to revitalize either its once great industrial base nor its natural city centers.
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