I've spent a fair amount of the past 15 or so years railing against the greedy, employee-unfriendly multinational giant known as Wal-Mart, Also known as "keeping China in business." In many ways, Wal-Mart represents everything wrong with America, corporate or otherwise. I don't think that has changed.
But something has changed, and that something is the Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market. Not a full Wal-Mart, the market is basically a grocery with just a little bit more. The fact that I am endorsing them probably says more about my intrinsic circumstances than the store itself.
I live in a "grocery wasteland." For at least 5 miles in every direction, there is either no grocery store or the kind of least-common-denominator grocery store that I don't want to shop. While that sounds elitist and pompous, I would argue that if you live in a area with significant lower income neighbors, you are doomed to subpar groceries. And, more importantly, so are they. On a whim, I can put in the road miles to get to an acceptable grocery. My neighbor's don't have that luxury. Sometimes they are even relegated to buying groceries at a Walgreen's.
In a wasteland, if there is even a grocery, and there won't be enough for anyone's convenience, it will be a compromised store with lesser cuts of meat, the worst produce, many more store brands than national brands, and NO self-checkout lines. In my case, we once had a Red Food, but that became a Bi-Lo, and now it is a Food City. The latest incarnation, at least, is the weakest in a downward spiral. One need only shop in any other local city, or even town, to discover the dismal circumstances of a Chattanooga grocery shopper, outside of a few pricey specialty markets. Kroger couldn't make it here; even Food Lion couldn't make it.
Still, the one Neighborhood Market I have been in was a clean, well-run store, easy to navigate, with name brands and good buys. It was, even for a Wal-Mart, a much better offering than whatever else we have here.
Plus, it is only 1 1/2 miles from my house.
Plus, it is located in an area that hasn't had a grocery store anywhere near in at least 15 years.
So my praise of Wal-Mart, the greedy, family-owned (mostly) and run empire, is because they have provided a more than decent option for the poor and disenfranchised, which is also convenient for me. When we think of "disenfranchised," we might forget that even the simple act of purchasing good food can be a challenge for the underclasses who have to find some kind of transportation that costs just to get the staples we take for granted. There are more ways to be shut out of basic decency than exist in our philosophy, Horatio.
The irony that a grocery for the poor will provide the best ingredients for a Mexican gourmet like me is not lost. Legal or illegal immgrants are going to shop at Wal-Mart both because of their prices and because they stock the foods that an ethnic shopper needs. Yeah, that's a bonus for me, too.
But, mostly, I am simply celebrating the fact that the multiple communities where I live have a simple need fulfilled, one that Maslow would claim is essential. To be able to accomplish that with a little bit of dignity is something that, I think, all of us around here feel. For we all want little more sometimes than to walk into a store that is safe, clean, and well-stocked. In the land of plenty, all of us would accept that common denominator, I believe. Well done, Wal-Mart. You are welcome here in ways that you aren't and shouldn't be welcome elsewhere.