Local First This Holiday Season

It’s ironic that WalMart has become an iconic symbol of the very same small towns that they’ve destroyed.  Main Street sits, rotting if even in a beautiful way, as a vacant reminder of the not-too-distant past when we built walkable communities that worked.  Places worth caring about, aesthetically pleasing mixed-use human scale neighborhoods that grew organically over time as the need arised.  Buildings designed and built by real people, kept up with pride by the business owners who lived in an apartment on top of the store itself, or in a house a few blocks away.  One with a long porch, on a street with sidewalks…so they could greet their neighbors as they walked by on a Sunday morning.

I’m not gonna think that I can influence the shopping habits of America with one blog post, but I am going to ask you the favor of at least considering what I have to say.  If you’re gonna shop tomorrow, at least consider our neighbors and our neighborhoods.  America is in the late stages of a serious disease, but fortunately there’s a cure…

My grandfather was born in Poland sometime in the late 1910’s, came to America as a child.  Built a life for himself and his family in one of these buildings in the city of Passaic, New Jersey.  There was an old-time Polish grocery on the ground floor of our building, the owner lived in one of the apartments in the same building.  As a kid in the early-1980’s, Passaic was long past its glory days.  My city was also a pop-culture breeding ground at one point.  My mother went to high school with The Shirelles.

As late as the 1950’s, veggie trucks still brought local fresh produce into the city.  I just talked to my mother on the phone earlier today about this, and she told me a story about how she and her many dirt-poor brothers and sisters, my aunts and uncles, would sneak an apple or two off the trucks when they got the chance.  People gotta eat.  Those apples came from orchards in North Jersey or New York State, in the same places that are now sprawling soul-less subdivisions linked by connector roads to the highway strip on the edge of “town” that carries produce from California, China or New Zealand.  The same stuff that used to be grown right there in their parking lot a few decades prior…

Many of the same people who grew up in Passaic during my mother’s time moved out to Clifton, or Lodi, or Garfield, or Saddle Brook, or wherever.  Set up new lives in the automobile-centric suburbs…drove into the city for work for a decade or so, but eventually even the jobs moved out to the suburbs.  The whole thing was built upon the assumed premise of neverending cheap oil, and now as that age comes to an end we’re going to have to seriously pay for those mistakes.

We’d walk downstairs from the apartment in 1984, little 5 year-old me and my grandma (who was a longtime addict who’d o.d. on prescription painkillers a few years later).  Hit the Polish grocery on the ground level…I’d wander the bulk candy aisle, while she picked up the ingredients for a real homemade pierogi dinner later that night.  I can still feel my grandpa’s stubble from his quite generous greeting hugs as we made it back upstairs a few minutes later.  He was a heavy drinker, who’d eventually drink himself to death a couple years hence.  It was always on his breath, and I had my first beer around that age while watching a Mets game in that apartment.  Or was it a Giants game?  Whatever.  He didn’t get to see the Mets win the Series in ’86, but I did.  That one was for him…

Anyways, back to the topic –

I just got off the phone with one of my sisters back in New Jersey, who’s sadly very excited about hitting the Big Box stores first thing tomorrow morning.

All I expect from my family for the holidays are phone calls and maybe letters, and they know that.  It’s not about cheap plastic Chinese crap, and the spirit of these holidays never has been.

Let’s please think about where we shop tomorrow, and throughout the rest of the season.

Please stay away from the Big Boxes, and especially WalMart

A Wal-Mart employee in Oregon has accused the mega-store chain in federal court of demoting her because she took time off during the Christmas shopping season to undergo an emergency hysterectomy.

They treat our people just like they treat our communities –

On Dec. 3, 2007, her doctor recommended an emergency hysterectomy, which was scheduled for Dec. 10. When deBarros notified her boss, Kenneth Hutchison, about her medical condition, the suit said, he scolded her and told her to go to the doctor on her time, not his.

The suit also alleged that Hutchison berated her about the timing of the operation because it “is our busiest time of year” and noted that two other assistant managers were out. He also asked, “Are you sure that you can’t take it later?” the suit said.

Local artisan producers and businesspeople need our help, and this is the time to support them.  Wherever you can, please leave the Boxes behind in favor of supporting local businesses.  

Your neighbors and your community thank you…


  1. If you’re so inclined, tips accepted here…

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