As you may have been able to determine from my messages thus far, I’ve got significant issues with large-scale commercialism wiping out the unique character of small town America (and Canada…the issue is universal, after all.)
I’m not opposed to the good things that corporately-controlled chains bring to the landscape. When you’re far from home, or it’s late at night – or both – and you absolutely need a certain something to keep your little one from spiking a fever faster than an ascending space shuttle, you appreciate the fact that big box stores can often afford to keep themselves open 24 hours.
The big places are also quite adept at keeping a hold on prices. And I have no interest in paying any more for the stuff I need to keep my family’s existence on an even keel.
Yet the loss to society is clear. The days of the mom and pop shop are rapidly drawing to a close. The loss extends far beyond the wholesale replacement of personalized service from someone you’d have over for dinner with corporate-sanctioned training of “personalized” service for minimum-wage-earners who likely won’t even be working there next week.
Perversely, this commoditization of all things local and unique generates some rich opportunities for writing.
For example, Rebecca Skloot wrote a powerful piece on this very issue in the October 17th edition of the New York Times Magazine. Entitled Two
The story used the then-approaching election to highlight the differences in people – those who want predictability vs. those who are willing to take a chance on some local spice – but the message is just as powerful any time, and far transcends mere election-time reportage.
Interestingly, a quick look at their respective web sites might tell a rather revealing tale. Baristas is about as sophisticated as circa 1997 HTML-coding tools allowed. It’s a riot of color, fonts and fuzzy photos. Sort of like the chaos of home, and it makes me want to jump in the car now and head on down to experience it for myself. Bob Evans, on the other hand, is as slick as the latest development tools and servers allow. The sidebar on the left-hand side of the page lists “Our Company” and “Investors” first. Only then do they tell you about their recipes. I guess we know where their priorities lie.
I can get the same thing at any number of places nearby. And I'm sure it won't be long before they target my own neighborhood. Oooh, lucky me.
I fear the milquetoast brigade is winning. The Bob Evanses of the world are slowly creeping across the land while the Baristas slowly close up shop as their owners near retirement and tire of fighting the overwhelming pressure of a conglomerate.
It saddens me to see such heritage slowly heading into oblivion. When we talk about abstract terms like globalization of markets and commoditization of goods and services, the on-the-ground impact is felt here. This is where we pay for our efficiencies, and I’m far from convinced that we’re better off as a result.
Consequently, I’ll get off the Interstate and head for the side road if it means my experience can be more meaningful than the same homogenized garbage I can get at thousands of other identical outlets serving the same homogenized garbage. Life is too short for me to waste on milquetoast. I hope you, too, are willing to take a chance on finding that special experience no matter where you are or what you’re doing.
Note: The story originally appeared on the New York Times Magazine’s site. Because they retain free copy for only a couple of weeks post-publication, I have included a link to a mirror site at Bob Coffield’s Care Law Blog.
A couple of other related blog comments can be found here:
- The Gray Lady discovers a divided America (quite a fun rant)
- Justine Larbalester’s comment on Different Worlds (the writer is a friend of the reporter)
My final question, then: does this issue move you as much as it moved me? If so, why? If not, why not?