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TK's MORNING BUZZ: Against the Chaining of America? Watch 'Store Wars: When Wal-Mart Comes to Town' on PBS June 7

23 May, 2001 By: Thomas K. Arnold

There's an upcoming program on PBS I'd like to urge all of you to watch.

"Store Wars: When Wal-Mart Comes to Town" is scheduled to air nationally on PBS stations at 10 p.m. June 7.

The documentary is about the residents in a small town in Virginia waging a yearlong battle to keep Wal-Mart out. But according to the press release, there's a much bigger picture the documentary also addresses: the chaining of America.

"More and more people are coming to feel that uncontrolled megastores mean death to established businesses, increased traffic and a major loss in quality of life," the release reads. "A truly American story, the one-hour program explores questions that American towns in every state are wrestling with today -- how much growth is too much?"

I guess I'm a typical consumer. I hate the concept of huge, sprawling megachains, preferring the intimacy and customer service of small, independent enterprises. I hate the concept, and I hate the strategy -- shared by virtually all of the megachains -- which is to move into a market with super-low pricing and other aggressive marketing strategies, put the indies out of business and then boost prices above what the indies were charging in the first place.

But my ideology doesn't stop me from shopping at megachains.

Heck, I even hit the nearby Starbucks every now and then, even though I bitterly oppose the biscotti-cutter approach to anything. I go there because it's convenient and because I like the coffee.

Granted, Starbucks never plays the price-buster game, preferring to kill the competition through shrewd marketing, strategic site selection and a reputation for quality. But still, I suppose I could be a purist. Part of me keeps tugging in that direction. Years ago, there was a comfortable little coffeehouse near my home in Carlsbad where you'd sit in old overstuffed sofas and armchairs and sip your cup o' Joe while perusing the shelves of old books the owners had brought in. That place closed down, however, shortly after Starbucks opened shop a block away -- and my initial plans of a boycott faltered within days when I discovered 1) there was only one other indie coffeehouse left in the same general vicinity and 2) the coffee there was no good.

So I'm grinning and bearing it, and doing my part, I guess, to propagate the chaining of America I am philosophically so against.

I hear the same from my video-renting and -buying friends. They used to frequent the local video store, but when it shut down or moved the only alternatives were a crummy independent establishment or a Blockbuster. Guess who won?

The way I see it, the problem with the chains is that they do a lot of things right. Ambiance is no match for better pricing, quality or selection. Maybe that's why Wal-Mart has become as big as it has -- they've got so much stuff, all in one place, that you're bound to find something you want or need, so why bother going someplace else?

We can bemoan the chaining of America, but we only have ourselves to blame.

And in the end, we get what we deserve.

Comments? Contact TK directly at:TKArnold@aol.com

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