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Who Owns The Mall?
Malls Of America
With a name like "Mall of America" you might think this gigantic mall near Minneapolis, Minnesota, might be American-owned, but not so. It is owned by Triple Five Corporation, a 'multinational conglomerate.' Could you buy a multinational conglomerate a cup of coffee? Could you play a round of golf with it? Could it send its kids to the same school your kids go to, be a member of the PTO, or run for City Council?
What's in the mall? Banana Republic, Abercrombie and Fitch, Brookstone's, Macy's, Bloomingdales, Walmart or maybe Home Depot?
Banana Republic is owned by the Gap which is an American company based in San Francisco. Banana Republic is not going to volunteer for your local fire department. Abercrombe and Fitch is based in New Albany, Ohio, and you will not see it seated in your church, synagogue, or mosque, and its kids will not be playing with yours on the local Little League Baseball team. Home Depot is not going to bring over a casserole when your wife is sick.
Walmart will just suck your town dry so you can't afford a fire department or a Little League team, so let's not even go there.
The point is, local business is run by local people, and so shares common interests with you. National and multinational business, for all its talk, shares little common interest with you. Its object is to take your money and send it to its national headquarters. In local business, what goes around comes around. To clean up a popular principal, misuse me today, rest assured my turn will come to misuse you tomorrow. Local businesses have to make and keep friends, and they have to watch where they step and who they step on. Big business can afford to crush you like a cockroach and apologize later, if made to do so.
In ancient times, say, 1960, every town had access to its local grocery store, its local clothing store, its hardware store, its mechanic, and its lumberyard. Every town did not have every kind of store, but if, for example, you didn't have a clothing store, you could go to the next town that did have a clothing store. In the stores in your town, you met your neighbors, exchanged news and ideas, and each found out how the other was doing. If you weren't there, don't worry! They'll talk about you anyway.
Later, the larger towns started to attract branches of the larger department stores, such as Woolworth, Montgomery Ward, J.C. Penny, and Sears. That was the beginning of the end for Main Street businesses, because small, local business cannot compete with national or multinational business. The key to business is buying cheap and selling at a profit. No small business could buy as cheap as Sears could, for example, and so, of course, Sears could afford to price their merchandise lower than local businesses could.
The malling of America nailed the last nails into the coffin of the Main Street community. Decentralization of community really began with the completion of the interstate highway system begun by President Eisenhower. Businesses found that they could increase profitability by basing themselves in a lower rent area outside the city. Because of the interstate, the commute was not all that bad. Then other businesses sprang up around them to serve the people working there. Later came the shopping malls, and after that the end of Main Street.
Today most of us shop at supermarkets that are part of a chain, clothing at places like Abercrombie and Fitch, Old Navy, and The Gap, consumer goods at stores such as Circuit City or Best Buy, and hardware, home improvement and repair items at a Lowes or Home Depot. Restaurants and bars, carpenters, plumbers and other services make up today's local businesses.
More than Just Loss of Community
Exportation of the core downtown businesses from Main Street to malls out in the further suburbs greatly contributed to the car culture that grew out of the 1950s. Each year we spend more time in our vehicles. Whereas in the old days we might walk downtown, nowadays we drive to this mall and that, searching out the right size, style, and price. The more time we spend in cars, the fatter we get. The fatter we get, the higher our medical bills get. Greenhouse gasses increase every time we drive to the mall. Many households now have three cars or more, as each parent and each child drive to a different mall. If this keeps up, between the commute and the trips to the mall, we will spend more time in our cars than outside them. What's lost? Our air quality, our fuel supply, our health, and our supply of quality family time.
As business has been exported to the mall, so cash flow has been exported from within the city limits to without. When you buy a pair of jeans from Walmart, for example, your money goes through the Walton family's pockets and then over to China where the jeans were made. When you buy a pair of sweat pants with Abercrombie and Fitch embroidered across the butt, your money ultimately goes to New Albany, Ohio. Sure, some of it ends up in the pockets of the people who work at Abercrombie and Fitch in your town, or, God help them, at Walmart, and these businesses do pay local taxes, but most of the serious money goes right on out of town.
Products imported into the town have their own hidden costs, for example, the fuel expended to get the product to the Sears or Lowes or wherever you buy your stuff. If the product comes from Pennsylvania or California, that's one thing, but if we are talking about grapes grown in Chile, you have to ask yourself, is it really worth it? Wouldn't it be better just to wait for the next crop to ripen in California or Florida, or even better, wait until farmer Bob's grapes down the road from you are ready next July? Maybe Mother Nature designed different fruits to ripen at different times of the year for a reason. Maybe you could wait.
When you eat at a local restaurant that is not part of chain, most of your money stays right in town. The owner's kids might go to school with yours; you might approach her to support your bid for Town Manager, or to contribute to the high school band, or to bake a cake for a bake sale to benefit the PTO. Sure, Stop and Shop might give you a cake to sell at the bake sale. Do you really think that's the same?
Keep the Money In Town
To make things better where you live, spend your money where you live every chance you get. Think about who gets the money, ultimately, as you spend it. Think first, wouldn't be better to spend your money on something made in America rather than on something from someplace else? I mean, I have nothing against Chinese people, but I would rather give my money to a fellow American if and when I have a choice. Then think, "Can I get this from a source closer to home?" Maybe if you hunt around a little bit, you can find a similar thing made in a state nearer yours, or in your state, or even in your county.
If you keep your money in your area, your area will be wealthier. If you know a dressmaker, have them make your dresses for your proms, weddings and other formal occasions instead of going to the mall. Instead of buying a new car, buy a used car from a neighbor, or buy a car that has been in your area for a long time from a local dealer. Perhaps a person in your town makes furniture. When you need furniture, try to buy it from them. Perhaps one of your local restaurants brews their own beer or ale. Instead of buying beer trucked in from St. Louis or shipped in from Germany, buy the local brew.
When you pay money to local individuals, your money will stay very local until the person you pay spends it. With any luck and maybe a hint from you, they, too, may think of some way to buy what they need from the most local source.
If you are a wealthy person, consider a micro-lending program to promote tiny businesses in your area and encourage everyone you know to patronize and support local business. Perhaps someone wants to open a bicycle shop or a shoe repair store. Perhaps a tailor from a foreign country moves to your town and needs help starting a custom clothing establishment. Perhaps you could form a consortium to help fund these and other kinds of local enterprise that will improve local quality of life and increase local wealth. Perhaps you could even make a little money funding these businesses.
Local businesses make your community a better place to live. They increase local wealth and have a vested interest in maintaining and improving the community. Support local business as much as you can.