And Then There Was One

23 02 2007

By Jill Ettinger

In Charles Fishman’s The Wal-Mart Effect, one thing proves itself to be incredibly obvious. America loves competition. The inquisitive children we start out as, playing with siblings and friends, turns into cut-throat rivalry. Blood boils with the anticipation of finding victory by crushing our enemies. We fight to the death in every exploration, no matter if it is love, sports, success or religion. In the name of the American dream, we even perpetuate devastating wars on other countries, to boost our economic gain while innocent people die.

It’s no secret that Wal-Mart has devastating effects on its local community and the larger world market. Their hefty buying power drives down prices by forcing suppliers into the impossible mathematics they demand. Uncomfortable situations and ambitious profit margins have moved factories overseas and diminished quality, not by the work of the laborers, but by the continued need to shave off penny after penny. It seems as much as Americans love a good fight, they also like to get cheap tickets to the viewing.

Our economy has turned itself into an uncreative coliseum contest of “me too” marketing intent on forcing competitors into bankruptcy and unpleasant mergers. TV shows mimic each other, as do musicians, politicians, and of course, our holy suppliers of the most sacred: things.  It’s interesting to watch items like the Googlezon video as imagery of our Orwellian future is happening now, though most of us hardly even notice.

When Wednesday’s news came of Whole Foods buying out its largest competitor, Wild Oats , while shocking it really wasn’t a surprise. They’ve consumed smaller chains, and the stores seemed eager to surrender.  I find it incredibly difficult to compare this merger to anything Wal-Mart has done, or probably ever will do, for one very simple reason: quality.

Whole Foods and Wild Oats stand for something beyond the penny savings that Wal-Mart has made billions on. They tell the story of the farmers, the good manufacturing practices, the local community. Shoppers often drive past their local supermarkets, Targets and Wal-Marts to their closest Whole Foods. And while budgets play a role in most shopping excursions, it is that larger, undefined feeling that drives these businesses. Whole Foods is paying out close to $700 million in this deal, and unlike the Wal-Mart effect, the purchase of these 100 + stores will hopefully bring our communities closer together, our quality of goods and services to an even higher level. The gargantuan Wal-Mart giant may “fee fi fo fum” its competitors all the way back to the beanstalk, but, in the end, it’s that very beanstalk that topples the giant.

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