I suppose nearly every small town with a population of ten thousand or so has one. It's always been just down the road a ways, open most of the time that normal people are out and about. After all these years folks tend to take it for granted. I've told lots of stories about ours throughout the years. like for instance, the time I left my reading glasses at home and found myself struggling to find exactly what I was looking for. I picked up a box from the shelf in front of me, squinting my eyes in an attempt to make out the letters swimming before my eyes. I was searching for a particular off-brand sleeping pill and to the best of my recollection, I had found them in the general vicinity in which I stood. Spotting an attractive woman approaching pushing a shopping cart, I cleared my throat and scurried toward her with box in hand.
"Excuse me, but I need some help." I thrust the box toward her. "Could you help me?"
She uttered a shriek as her eyes bulged, "No, no, no...I cannot help you!"
The woman waved her hand menacingly toward me, then turned and quickly disappeared around the corner.
I turned in bewilderment and spied a clerk at the end of the aisle.
"Hi, I'm looking for some sleeping pills..."
"Those are condoms."
I have so many fond memories and found myself speechless when I picked up our weekly newspaper the other day. My eyes grew wide, then moistened. I didn't even reach for my reading glassed as the glaring headline, which took up a third of the front page, burned a vision in my mind I likely will never forget. My mouth gaped open wide while I studied the fourteen letter announcement, 'WALMART CLOSING.'
'How could this be?' My mind raced as panic set in. What will I do if there is no Walmart? Where will I get my Walmart brand sleeping pills? My Walmart brand Rogaine? My Walmart brand acid reflux pills? The REDBOX is at Walmart! That super attractive little clerk that always checks me out while she checks me out is at Walmart! I wiped sweat from my forehead as it all sank in. This is worse than Armageddon!
Word spread like herpes throughout our little podunk community. No longer was talk over coffee about the football team, which isn't as good as last year, or the cotton crop, which isn't as good as last year, either. A feeling of gloom settled in on our little town as we collectively tried to accept the fact that in just a few short weeks...no Walmart. We collectively worried about our older folks who couldn't make the forty minute drive to one of the five Super Walmarts up in the city. We worried about how the lost tax revenue would affect our community and our schools. We worried about the eighty people, all friends, neighbors, and relatives, who would lose their jobs when the store closes. And silently some of us worried about whether we'd ever get a decent night's sleep without those little blue Walmart sleeping pills.
For those of you who weren't around in the dark ages before Walmart, let me enlighten you. Small communities like mine were a bustling hub of shops lining the courthouse square. There were clothing shops, shoe shops, and hardware stores. There were home owned pharmacies manned by pharmacists whom we trusted more than our country doctors. There were 'dime stores' and bakeries and barber shops. These little stores were owned and operated by local folks within our communities. They knew your name, and your daddy's name, as well. They tithed at church. They dutifully paid their city taxes. They supported our schools. They were like family...and you could always bet they'd be there when you needed something.
Then Walmart began invading one community after another, like the black plague. Most small businesses lasted less than six months. Entire towns withered and died. Shop owners dreadfully set out in search of employment, likely forced to move to some strange city to find any kind of job to support their families. Meanwhile, Walmarts grew larger and larger. They sold gasoline, closing most of the service stations throughout our country. They sold groceries, closing mom and pop corner grocers. They opened hair salons and offered tax preparation services. They sold tires and sewing supplies. They developed photos and sold Subway sandwiches. They opened banks inside their stores and they sold eyeglasses.
They came. They pillaged. They destroyed and devastated. They took the profits from small communities like mine and went to the cities to build bigger stores. And then they left. Walmart owed us more than that. They will pack and leave like a thief in the night and I venture an uneducated guess that they will walk away from at least a half million dollars in weekly sales just in our community alone. I suppose when you're as big as Walmart, that's just pocket change.
Walmart finds itself struggling. The company has made some bad choices. Perhaps they tried too hard to scavenge every single penny from our paychecks Perhaps we grew wise to the farce of their claim to 'Everyday Low Prices' for they abandoned that policy years ago. Perhaps we grew weary of trudging what seems like miles across their parking lots and through their gigantic stores to buy a gallon of milk. Perhaps we have grown fond of shopping online with Amazon and having our merchandise delivered at our doorstep.
Nothing is forever...not even Walmart. Our town wasn't the first to lose a Walmart, nor will it be the last. Walmart knows it must downsize to survive and this is only the beginning. As the dust settles in our little podunk west Texas town, I find hope as I try to suppress the excitement that is beginning to build inside me. I pray our community will weather the storm and will overcome this setback. I pray that soon our courthouse square will once again bustle with activity as local business people venture back, claiming the business left behind by a fading giant. I hope our town will reclaim what was theirs all along! Walmart? Pshaw! Smallmarts on every street corner...Smallmarts everywhere!