Monday, January 5, 2009

Big Box Swindle The True Cost of Mega Retailers and the Fight for America;s Independent Business by Stacy Mitchell

Big Box Swindle The True Cost of Mega-Retailers and the
Fight for America's Independent Business
by Stacy Mitchell

This book is a statement against big box retailers;
Lowe's, Walmart, Costco, Barnes & Noble, and Toys R' Us
are some of the businesses which are challenged. It
also challenges Amazon, the online mega-retailer.

The central thesis of this book is that big box stores
do not serve the communities which they operate in: they
lower wages, increase unemployment, increase urban
blight, and give very little back to the communities
they are part of both in terms of charity and money.

Mega retailers owe their allegiance to the stockholders
which hold shares of their company, not the communities
which they operate in.

This often leads to behavior where in order to save
money, the big box retailers use tactics which smaller
independent businesses cannot support. They ask for
development grants, tax breaks, and training programs
from the government. Then after being
in communities, they often abandon the buildings they
are operating in to move to large facilities, pollute
the environment, and break labor laws.

The government tends to take the side of large
corporations. Recently, there have been examples of
using eminent domain to take peoples home to build
shopping centers and mega malls. There is an assumption
that because the mega retailer is cheaper, it is better
for the community. It is the attitude of support the
consumer saving money at all costs.

I personally find mega malls very uncomfortable. They
are impersonal, the clerks often know very little about
the products they are selling, are underpaid, and have
very little investment in the community. I can go to
the local pharmacist and get good service and help with
prescriptions. This does not happen at Walgreens.
There are numerous examples of how much better service
is in a small business in this book.

It is very hard to be a prosumer, a person who sees his
choices in what he consumes as being part of the outcome
of what will be produced in a big box store setting. I
see myself as part of the process of producing and
consuming books at the same time. I make a lot of
choices about how books are purchased and I consume a
lot of them as well.

I am lucky to live in a neighborhood with a fruit stand,
several non-chain restaurants, and many small
businesses. It keeps the character of the neighborhood

I do not like the massive unchecked growth I see in the
big box stores. Walmart looks like a monopoly to me. I
can see it being broken apart much like Standard Oil was
broken apart. I also don't like the way big box stores
have gained unfair advantages in controlling supply
chains and distribution. It took a $46 million dollar
settlement fought for by the American Bookseller
Association to even out the discounts from distributors
between Barnes and Noble and independent

I like the descriptions of how communities are resisting
having their downtowns taken over by mega retailers.
Some communities place size limits on commercial
buildings, other communities limit the franchises in
their neighborhoods, and still others are forming
community stock corporations to open independent
groceries and department stores where there were none

In some instances small businesses are forming buyers
cooperatives. Ace hardware is a buyers cooperative that
allows independents to remain competitively priced with
Lowe's or Home Depot. Also some towns are forming
independent business alliances like the Austin
Independent Business Alliance.

This book demonstrates the struggle between big box
retail stores and independent businesses. I am on the
side of shopping locally for the most part. I do admit
that I shop online as well. I think they did not do
that great a job covering online shopping in this book.
However, I support the idea of small business preserving
the character of communities as well as the middle
class. This book is very informative. Even if you
don't agree with it completely, it is a very interesting

There is an index and very extensively referenced notes.
I wish the author had separated the books out from the
notes and created a bibliography. It would have made
the book much better. The author probably wouldn't have
liked me using Amazon to show the book. But, in a way,
I actually like Amazon a bit even if it is a mega-retailer.

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