What big chains really took

If you look around our cities and towns you have to know that big retail chains destroyed a way of life.

Today you shop in malls instead of small stores. In supermarkets instead of corner groceries. Department stores died. Eventually Walmart will offer everything from brain surgery to funerals. And all that.

The big retailers drove out many of the types of people who once led and inspired our communities. I mean owners of significant retail businesses. Of big department stores. And hardwares. Clothing stores. Groceries and pharmacies. Car dealers and hotel operators. Small town bankers. Furniture dealers. Movie theater operators.

Some remain, but most are gone. These were guys who funded endowments of churches and hospitals. They propped up charities, symphonies. They rescued libraries. They led Rotaries and Lions and booster clubs. They served in city and town governments. They put their United Ways over the top year after year.

They were invaluable on boards of all sorts. Because they knew budgets, numbers, financial discipline. They knew how to run businesses. Their knowledge helped every group they served to pull up their socks.

Big retail chains decimated the ranks of these independent retailers. A few are left. Most are gone from our communities. ‘Tis doubtful their like will ever return.

The chains even wiped out leaders in their own ranks. Used to be that managers of Sears and JCPenney were pillars of their communities. Their firms encouraged that. Allowed them budgets for local charities. Tell me, who manages your Walmart today? Your Walmart that does fifty times the business your Sears of old did.

I think of what we have lost when I buy gas at my village convenience store. It is part of a big chain. Years ago there were two gas stations in the village. Their owners contributed to all the little charities in the area. They bought ads in the high school yearbook. They kicked in to buy uniforms for the school band. They gave to their churches. They were generous to Scouts.

The convenience store chain gives zip to local organizations. It takes in fifty times the money those gas stations did. It gives back nada, in leadership or money. The same is true all the way up the chain, with most of the big box retailers. In all the communities of this state, this country.

Walmart may give a few thousand to some charities. But as a percentage of their sales in a community? Their contributions are nothing compared with the donations that flowed from the many stores they replaced.

I am not chastising the big retailers. My point is that communities used to get more back from retailers than they do now. Retailers behaved like responsible members of communities. Because their owners were. We have lost much of that.

Here is something that would replace some of that largesse of old: Imagine if every Walmart, every supermarket, every Lowe’s and BJ’s kicked in a nickel for every transaction. Kicked in a nickel to a community fund. One nickel for every customer, every transaction, every day.

As a percentage of the dollars they take in? The tiniest of pittances. As a token of their responsibility to the communities of the customers who enrich them? Long overdue. Long overdue.

It is easy for me to conjure such an idea. I would love to see some of our leaders get behind it and suggest, encourage, push, embarrass, shame – if necessary – our retail chains to step up to the plate on this or something like it. Their haul from us is gigantic. They ought to give back more. This is an easy way to do it. And, believe me, they would never feel it.

From Tom...as in Morgan.

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