Like most 20-something Americans just beginning their careers and adult lives, I live on a very strict budget. Well, I should live on a strict budget. I have a little problem with impulse buys. Unlike most impulse shoppers who spend half their paychecks on designer brands and labels, I impulsively buy lots of cheap things. I just moved into a new house with my roommate and coworker. Obviously we needed to buy new things, important things, like a matching rubber ducky shower curtain, soap dish, hand towels and duck-shaped bath mat. This was crucial. If I find $10 in my pocket, I assume it was there for me to spend. So I'll head off and buy myself some new socks, pens, mascara, notebooks, magazines, or whatever. I felt guilty spending $50 on a cute red jacket that I wanted for months, but for some reason these little purchases that I don't need, or even really want, don't phase me.
Also, I am not a name-brand kind of girl. The only clothes store I go to in the mall is H&M. I make weekly stops to Goodwill and the Salvation Army for t-shirts or furniture or vinyl. I am definitely a generic brand buyer. What toothpaste do I use? Whatever is on sale. I buy generic brands of everything from aspirin to prescription meds to potato chips.
That's why when a new Wal-Mart was built a couple of years ago in Exton, only minutes from where I worked and lived, I was overjoyed. Wal-mart - the land of low prices. The store has everything. Whenever I feel a shopping spree need come over me, I head to Wal-Mart and buy something usually unnecessary, but always cheap. That's how I satisfy my urge to shop, but also pay rent every month.
There have always been arguments against Wal-Marts and how they are taking over the country. It's true. I've never been in a town that didn't have a Wal-Mart within driving distance. And they keep coming. As soon as one is erected, the neighboring town gets one. Trees go down, bricks go up. This has always bothered me. But has it bothered me enough to boycott the chain? Yes, for about a week, and then I realized how hard it is to resist the Wal-Mart urge.
Another often-heard argument is that Wal-Marts put mom-and-pop shops out of business. True enough. When I can, I give little shops my business. Their downfall is that they only sell you specialty items. When I don't know exactly what I need, I know I can go to a super-sized store and figure it out.
I recently learned of a new argument against the construction and spread of Wal-Mart stores - it threatens history.
Vermont has been added to the list of America's most endangered places by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Vermont already has four Wal-Marts - smaller than the usual size stores, and Vermont preservationists say the company is planning to enlarge two of them and open five new ones. Some believe that the stores would damage the small-town character of Vermont's landscape and communities.
Many tourists flock to places like Vermont to get away from modernized society and city life. All my life I've lived in urban or suburban areas. Southern New Jersey is the closest I've been to farmland and a slower-paced lifestyle. There have always been stores like Wal-Mart around me. This argument of threatening historical landmarks has never occurred to me.
It makes sense, though. If I lived in a beautiful place where a Wal-Mart would be an eyesore, rather than another option from the Target, Kmart or mall, I too would be insulted by its construction.
In fact, maybe I am insulted, nonetheless. When all the arguments stack up, I'm not sure the convenience of Wal-Mart makes up for its shortcomings and dangers it presents. Parks are being replaced by parking lots, family-owned businesses are putting up out of business signs and pieces of American history are disappearing before our eyes.
Maybe it's time for me to start giving higher priority to the little things that really matter, like forests and landmarks, instead of little things that I shouldn't be buying in the first place.
Jessica Sycz can be reached at email@example.com.