A new restaurant comes to town and everyone gets excited. In the early 1980’s, I worked for Long John Silver’s. I was part of a management team that opened new restaurants in the Central Ohio area. I helped open three Long John Silver’s, one in Zanesville, Newark, and Westerville.
I vividly remember the long lines we had when we first opened a new restaurant. Even then, it stuck me as strange that people would wait 30-40 minutes to eat in a fast food restaurant. But, people did. Why? Americans love novelty, they love new things.
I started in the restaurant business with Arthur Treacher’s. I was an assistant manager at the Newark restaurant and after a few months I was promoted to general manager of the Reynoldsburg store. This was in the early 1980’s. In the mid-1990’s. I managed a Charley’s Steakery restaurant in Zanesville, Ohio.
As a restaurant manager I hated it when new restaurants opened. I knew that my sales were going to drop as customers tried out the food at the new restaurant. Sometimes sales could drop 20-30%. Over time, sales would rebound but they rarely returned to their previous level.
Why? People only have a certain amount of discretionary money or grocery money. Every time a new player enters the game the total money pot is diluted. This is why it is not uncommon for a new restaurant opening to result in other restaurants going out of business.
American capitalism is fueled by predatory practices. The strong eat the weak. Companies with more more money and political power strive to put their competitors out of business, thereby increasing their market share.
In the mid-1970’s, I was the dairy manager for Foodland grocery store in Bryan, Ohio. Foodland was a local grocery company with small, aging buildings. Along came Chief grocery store, a local grocery company. They built a large, expansive store on the south side of Bryan. The differences between Foodland and Chief were readily evident and over time people began shopping at Chief rather than Foodland. Within a few years, Foodland, unable to compete with Chief, closed their doors.
Later, the mother of all predators, Walmart came to town. Over time, small town grocers closed their doors, unable to compete with Walmart. Local government officials bent over backwards for Walmart, giving them tax incentives and abatements that locally owned businesses never received.
Recently, Chief closed their store pharmacies and closed a store in Lima. Chief is in trouble. They call it repositioning their business…this is business-speak for man the lifeboats the ship is sinking.
Losing Chief would be a huge loss for rural NW Ohio. Their meat department and produce department are first class. My son and daughter both work part-time for Chief in Bryan. But, their grocery prices are not competitive when compared with Meijer and Walmart. Both Meijer and Walmart have the financial muscle to bankrupt their competitors and they use it with impunity.
Should I lament the slow-death of Chief? Yes, but I see a bit of karma at work. It is Chief that put Foodland out of business and now it is Walmart doing its best to send Chief to the bankrupt business graveyard.
Like most Americans, I am a price-whore. I shop where the prices are the cheapest. Why would I shop at Barnes and Noble when I can by the same book at Amazon for 30-40% less? So it is with grocery stores. I shop at the stores with the best prices.
The other day I needed to find a tube for my wheelbarrow. I went to four different stores and I was unable to find a tube. (odd wheel size) The last store I stopped at was ACE Hardware in Bryan. They didn’t have the tube either.
The wheelbarrow was quite old, so I decided to give up my search and buy a new one. I told the clerk what I wanted and she told me that I could take the one that was at the front of the store. I told her I needed it in a box so it would fit in the car. She told me that all of their wheelbarrows are assembled. I thought, Another failed attempt to get a functioning wheelbarrow. Then she said, we will be glad to take the wheelbarrow apart so you can get it in the car.
Awesome customer service. I paid ten dollars more for the wheelbarrow than I would have paid at Lowe’s or Menards but I doubt they would have provided me with the customer service that ACE Hardware in Bryan did.
I told Polly later, why don’t we shop at ACE Hardware rather than Lowe’s or Menards? The staff is so helpful and friendly. Yes, the prices are a bit higher but the service is so much better.
Over the weekend I needed to pickup some electrical boxes for the garage. Surely I went to ACE Hardware? Of course not, like many Americans, I went to a big-box store. I bought everything I needed from Menards. Did I save money? Sure, but I suspect I was being penny-wise, pound-foolish. I traded a small short-term gain for the future of rural NW Ohio.
Small, local business closings here are quite common. Some of the businesses deserve to close. They either have the wrong business model or don’t take care of their customers and this results in them losing their business. However, in many cases, small, local businesses are swallowed up by big-box, chain businesses that use their low price muscle to put their competitors out of business.
I shop primarily in Bryan and Defiance, Ohio. Both communities are rapidly becoming a monoculture of big-box, chain businesses. We get excited when a Walmart or Kohl’s blesses us with their presence in our community, rarely considering the price our local community is paying when the new kid on the block run off old established businesses.
The predatory capitalistic system flourishes with taxpayer money and destroys all who stand in its way. Government leaders rarely consider what is best for the community; what is best for those who are their neighbors and friends. They sell our future for the sake of being able to say, Look at us, we brought Walmart to town.
Predatory capitalism is inherently anti-competition. I know some of you will think this is not so, but consider this…the goal of every big-box and chain store is to steal the business of their competitors and put them out of business. Through consolidation, big-box and chain stores dominate the market and remove all competition.
Over the years the capitalistic predators have come to rural NW Ohio, taken our money, and when they have extracted all the money they can from us, they close their doors and move on to the next community willing to prostitute themselves for the privilege of having a new, exciting, cost-saving business in their community.
Every few years local government leaders will talk of revitalizing downtown Bryan and Defiance. The Federal and State government will give them grant money to spruce up and revitalize the downtown area.
They will have campaigns to encourage people to shop local downtown businesses. Yet, nothing changes. All the stores that were the mainstays of downtown Bryan and Defiance when I was a youth are long gone. And they aren’t coming back.
Local government leaders sacrificed the Bryan and Defiance downtown to the god of Walmart. They are the ones who allowed predatory capitalism to rape our communities. I am complicit in their violence to the degree that I said nothing as they allowed big-box and chain stores to destroy local businesses. I continue to be complicit in this destruction every time I spend a dollar at a bog-box or chain store rather than a locally owned business.
To some degree we have reached a point of no return in rural NW Ohio. Big-box and chain stores so dominate the business landscape that I have no choice but to shop at their stores. I suspect my complaint is too little, too late.
The hope lies in the future. Some day the big-box and chain stores will suck the area dry and will leave. I hope there are local people with the capital necessary to raise up again a true local economy once the predators are gone.
Or…maybe we will be one-shop shopping at Amazon, delivered the same day to our doorstep, Then we won’t have to notice what we have lost. No need to venture down Main St in Bryan or Clinton St, in Defiance. No need to survey the huge lifeless buildings left behind when the predatory capitalists left town.