Wednesday, February 26, 2014
This does not surprise me
Back when the Younger Daughter was still living in Texas, on one of our last visits, we noticed the Many, Louisiana, Walmart had moved. At the time, she worked in Hemphill so would run over to Louisiana to shop occasionally. We'd been to Many before when we'd visited. Anyway, the Many Walmart used to be fairly close to downtown (such as it is; Many's not a real huge town); the last time we were there we discovered the Evil Empire had moved itself up the highway far enough that you pass a fair amount of farm fields and not much of anything else before you get there. This move was no doubt right over a legal boundary of some sort, like the city limits, so they could talk the parish into giving them tax breaks because the deal they'd cut with the town had run out.
It struck me then that it I lived right in Many, I'd be shopping at Dollar General, Family Dollar, and Brookshire Brothers more often rather than hop in the car to run several miles out to Walmart for cheap toilet paper. I'm not kidding -- when we headed north on US-171 out of Many, it was starting to feel like we'd hit Shreveport before we found the Walmart.* Once you make the drive long enough, the prices at the end had better be pretty damn low to justify burning the gas. According to the report, more and more people are concluding that they're not.
This is just common sense on the part of consumers, although sometimes it takes awhile to sink in. When the Houghton Walmart first opened, we did shop there a lot. Gas was a lot cheaper, there was a novelty effect, and it was back when Sam Walton was still alive and the company hadn't turned into the Evil Empire it is today. But you know, I don't think we'd shop there today even if it wasn't the Evil Empire unless we happened to be in Houghton for other reasons. It feels too far now to make it worth the trip on its own.
I do know a few people who will drive from L'Anse up to Houghton to shop at Walmart, but I really wonder why. It's got to be at least a 30 mile drive, maybe more like 40 or even 50 (it's about 45 for us, but we live about 10 miles east of L'Anse). Even with my fuel-efficient Focus, I'd be burning 3 to 4 gallons of gas every time I drove up there and back. That's (at current local gas prices) anywhere from $10 to $15 gone and for what? The opportunity to save a few cents on a package of toilet paper? What's the point? It's fairly simple math. Maybe my groceries are going to cost me a couple dollars more when I shop in L'Anse and Baraga, but I'm burning less gas. In the end I've saved more by shopping locally than if I gone up the highway pursuing bargains. Now multiply us by a whole lot of other [former] Walmart customers, add in the drop in revenue when Food Stamp benefits got cut (not surprisingly, quite a few Walmart customers rely on SNAP), and it starts becoming obvious why Walmart's got problems that go way beyond its public relations headaches over the company's personnel policies and reliance on third world sweatshops for its products.
*Walmart was the Younger Daughter's preferred source for dog chow. At the time, she thought The House of Satan had the best price on 50-lb bags (which is now a 42.5 lb. bag as pet food suppliers shrink the size of the packages to avoid raising.prices in a more obvious fashion, but that's a subject for a different post).