I drove around no more than a few miles from where I live on this Black Friday morning, curious to see if there was any sign of Wal-Mart workers protesting wages, benefits, or the retaliation that comes from management whenever any discussion of better working conditions is mentioned.

Along the way, I went through two Wal-Mart parking lots and one Sam’s Club lot.  I didn’t care to set foot inside, but it’s not like I would have seen anything but packed stores anyway.  Sadly, the only signs I saw outside along the public sidewalks nearby were a couple held up by homeless people.

It’s a growing sign of the times.  And it’s not as though companies like Wal-Mart are going to provide any solutions to that soon.  They do, after all, hold the upper hand in the nasty business of controlling with an iron fist things like employee wages, benefits (or lack thereof), work hours, and where their own employees are able to spend the little money their own associates earn.

If their associates don’t like it, management will just find someone else who’ll put up with it to take those associates’ places.  If we don’t see huge displays of protesters outside Wal-Mart stores, maybe that’s why.

My favorite locally owned neighborhood grocery store, where the people who work there are more like friends. (Photo By John G. Miler)

From those Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club parking lots, I happily drove to my favorite grocery store.  It’s a chain store too, but it’s locally owned.  Seeing as how I’m the one out of our family who does most of our grocery shopping, I’ve become a familiar face in our nearby store, and it’s not a rare thing to walk the aisles and see one of the owners there.  Customers know what the owners look like, because they’ve seen their faces in local ads and on their grocery bags.  Customers can talk to the owners face to face and engage in friendly conversations.  The employees treat the owners just like customers, and I can say that because I’ve had one of the owners checking out next to me.

We’re talking about a store where many of the employees have been there for years, and if you’re a regular customer you even see some familiar faces among the customers.  It’s a store where the employees actually recognize you as a regular customer.  One of them has a name for me:  “Kenny Rogers,” because of my resemblance to the country music singer, and any time she sees me she strikes up a conversation.  If my wife and daughter are in the store with me, she’ll strike up a conversation with them as well.

It’s like a friendship.  That’s not a bad way to do business.

That locally owned neighborhood grocery store isn’t all that far down the street from a Wal-Mart superstore, and the locally owned store shows no signs of having lost much business to the behemoth.  Personally, I try to avoid Wal-Mart like the plague because I hate what their business model has become.  I’d be lying if I said I never shop there.  I’ve seen one employee of the locally owned store who came to know me by my name go to work at the new Wal-Mart superstore, and she seemed happy at the start.  I know because I struck up a conversation with her.  Soon after, I never saw her there again.  Regular faces among Wal-Mart associates doesn’t seem to be a very common thing.

Back when I had a decent full-time job, I did almost all of my shopping at the locally owned store.  Sadly, now that I’ve had to watch our money more without a decent full-time job, I shop more at the nearest Wal-Mart.  I know what it’s like to have to live on a super-tight budget, and I can’t blame those who shop there because of that same reason.  But I long for the day when a decent full-time job comes our way again, and my days of being a more regular Wal-Mart shopper can end.

I do still shop as regularly as possible at the locally owned store, because I know there are some items there that Wal-Mart either doesn’t have or they cost just as much if not less than the giant.  Besides, there is absolutely, positively no way I am ever going to buy meat at Wal-Mart.  If I’m going to eat meat, I’d like to know it came from a healthy bovine or bird, and my locally owned store gives me that satisfaction.

My big dislike for Wal-Mart goes back to a wide variety of reasons, but the biggest ones have to do with the very reasons there’s even been talk of employees — err, associates — walking out during the big Black Friday rush:  people working hard for and showing loyalty to a company that they believe in and get excited about in the beginning, believing that loyalty is going to be returned by the employer, and finding something else to be true in all too many cases … right down to having a multibillion-dollar company telling its people they’ll have to rely on the state to take care of their health care needs, or that they’ll need to go to the state for assistance in putting food on their table, because the multibillion-dollar company refuses to do so through a livable wage.

That’s the kind of thing about Wal-Mart that makes me sad to say that I even set foot in the place.

But I do refuse to set foot in a Wal-Mart on this Black Friday.  The reasons why are pretty much summed up in this 97-minute documentary below.

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