Friday, November 07, 2008

Last Store Standing....

The market's down again. And again.

Just about every place you've heard of  - Fidelity, GM, Mattel - not to mention all those places you haven't heard of are having lay-offs.

The only fun economic news lately was yesterday's revelation that Sarah Palin didn't know which three countries are part of NAFTA. (This can't possibly be true, can it? But it was on Fox, so it must be true, eh? Plus, they report, we decide. I like being a decider, and I decide that this is true.)

We are in this weird place right now, aren't we?

During previous recessions, we weren't bombarded by 24/7, incessant pre- , intra- , and post- on what was happening on a moment by moment basis. You read about it in the business section of the paper, and heard five minutes per night about it on the news. "It" - the recession - happened; we endured it; we came out of it.

But now, with all the reporting, it's almost as if we're gearing up for bad economy as Godzilla, recession as tsunami. We're the panicked citizens, racing to get out of its path, or huddling in our houses hoping it passes by (or crushes us quickly). Shriek! It's coming! I hear it. RRRUUUNNNNN!

And while we're waiting for it, there's also some sort of odd sense of Phoney War, as we all wait for the other metaphorical shoe to drop. (At least during this Phoney War, the other shoe isn't on the goose-stepping foot of Nazi storm troopers.)

So we're in an eerie place now, aren't we? And, Obama election aside (at least for some of us), all the news is bad.

The latest bad news cluster is around retail sales, that economic bellwether in our shop-aholic, consumer-driven economy.

Retailer after retailer is reporting disappointing autumn sales, store closings, low Christmas expectations.

Bad news on every store front.

But what's this I hear, that ka-ching coming from Bentonville?


Wal-Mart, we are told in The New York Times, is "poised for a blockbuster Christmas."

“In my mind, there is no doubt that this is Wal-Mart time,” H. Lee Scott Jr., the company’s president and chief executive, said recently at a meeting of analysts and investors in Wal-Mart’s hometown, Bentonville, Ark. Referring to the discount chain’s founder, he added, “This is the kind of environment that Sam Walton built this company for.”

I'll admit, I'm a fourteen-carat gold snob. Maybe even a twenty-four-carat gold one.

Plus, I'm a carless urban dweller.

The amount of time and money I've spent in a Wal-Mart, if somehow combined, could dance on the head of a pin with the heavenly choir, leaving room for The Rockettes.

I have been in exactly one, where I bought some stuff to stuff in logo'd lunch boxes my company had for some trade show promotion we were doing.

That was it.

So my one and only Wal-Mart expense was expensed.

As a fourteen-carat (possibly twenty-four-carat), East-coast, elite, liberal, urban, godless snob, I quite naturally do not particularly like Wal-Mart. While I don't exactly sneer at them, I don't like much of what I've read about their labor practices, the pressure tactics they use with vendors (eventually low price usually does have to come at the expense of quality), or their greeters.

I also found the one and only Wal-Mart I've been too depressing, poorly lit, chilly, and not all that clean. It reminded me more of shopping in East Berlin (pre-reunification) than shopping in most places I frequent.

All this said, I recognize that they do offer many necessities at a low price, and that this can be a life saver for many people, especially those on a fixed income and/or with families.

But I sure don't want them to be the only shopping alternative left in this country.

If that's the case, what will us carless, urban folks do?

Will there be airlifts from Bentonville? Will the drop crates of Levis, Nerfballs, and Cup-a-Noodle Soup into our parks? Will we develop a new, urban cargo cult, worshipping the shipments from Arkansas that drift down from our dreary skies? Will I cat-fight other women for the parachute silk (or whatever it's made of) so that I can hand-craft my own underpants?

Forget what I said about being godless a moment ago.

Dear God, please, don't let Wal-Mart be the last store standing in the world. Really, please, pretty-please, reverent-please: I'll do anything you ask. Just don't let that happen.

(Can I get an 'Amen'?)

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