Editor’s note: This article is reprinted from the Morristown High School Broadcaster, with permission. The opinions represented are the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect those of MorristownGreen.com
By John Vallacchi, Morristown High School
Unless you (1) Don’t pay much attention to local affairs or (2) Haven’t looked up into the night sky and seen those bizarre spotlights, then you’ve probably heard of the new ShopRite of Greater Morristown.
With its extremely competitive prices and huge array of prepared foods and grocery items, this megastore is poised to take over the Morristown area’s grocery business and become everyone’s Number One place to shop.
Smaller, less popular stores like Acme will almost definitely face tough times ahead. The fact of the matter is that smaller, more traditional grocery stores no longer can compete with places like ShopRite, which have high output/low price business models sustained by their large sizes. ShopRite has around 250 locations across the Northeast; Acme has less than half that, with only 117.
In recent years, Morristown has seen a rather large influx of chain stores, including but not limited to places like Starbucks, Walmart and Qdoba.
The new ShopRite, just outside of town in Cedar Knolls, is like the many corporate businesses that now dot the streets of Morristown with their generic structures and popular logos.
As corporations like these invade, local businesses like Drip Coffee and Tito’s Burritos may find difficulty in sustaining a viable and lucrative business when cheaper, better-known alternatives are only a block away.
If this pattern continues, Morristown may soon have no local businesses to speak of. Consider a nearby town like Rockaway. Once the mall moved in with hundreds of brand-name businesses and popular chain restaurants, the local character of the town (not that there was much of one) disappeared, and it became just another rest-stop town with a huge movie theater and plenty of places to eat mediocre food.
Many would argue that mega-companies like Walmart and Starbucks pummeling small businesses into submission is simply how capitalism works, and if small businesses can’t compete then they should – by the laws of the free market – fail.
They would also raise the point that these companies hire more people than the average small business and provide the local economy more stability.
In their eyes, mega-companies are “superior businesses” and should be allowed the numerous tax breaks and subsidies they receive from local and federal governments.
This argument (taken at face-value) seems like a good one. Of course, Walmart and ShopRite are good for a local economy. They provide jobs and increase consumer traffic in the area. Who would think otherwise?
Groups like OUR Walmart and even some of Walmart’s boldest employees think otherwise.
Over Thanksgiving break, nationwide protests were held to bring attention to the low wages and poor benefits that Walmart offers its average employee.
While some of the protesters’ claims were more inflammatory than they were truthful, the protests in general raise an interesting question. Should Walmart, as an employer of 1 percent of the US population (the largest employer in the US), be held accountable for the livelihood of its employees?
Today, Walmart employees are among the largest groups of recipients of government-sponsored healthcare and food stamps. Walmart employees earn an average wage of $11.75 an hour, or $20,744 a year, which falls below the $22,000 poverty line.
The story is the same for people working low-level jobs at McDonald’s or ShopRite. These businesses, while they might not hire as many people as Walmart does, are just as guilty of providing their workers with “slave wages.”
Despite the obvious worker abuses and sub-par wages that places like Walmart and ShopRite bring to Morristown, I personally think that megastores take away from the character of a town.
Whatever happened to Fairchild Market or Epstein’s? These stores made Morristown a shining example of the great American small town 20 years ago.
Morristown is now a town in flux, waiting to decide whether it wants to cave in to conformity like every other branded American town, or stand out and show that pockets of American ingenuity still exist.
This town could be something so special and so definitive of American values that we, as its citizens, cannot lose it to big businesses and popular brands.
So next time you want to get something to eat, maybe go try the Taco Truck or give Drip Coffee your money. Because, really, how great is the overpriced Frappuccino in your hands, or the poorly-folded burrito in your doggie bag?
John Vallacchi is a student at Morristown High School.