Spitting in the eye of society


kitchen collectionEvery few days we make a point of getting out of the house and we take a short drive. Yesterday we went to check out a local park (Cliffside County Park in Racine Wisconsin) and while we were out we stopped by at the closest Kitchen Collection store.

Closest isn’t all that close — the closest store is about 30 miles away.  Our reason for going wasn’t all that important.  A little something that we thought we might be needing.

But I guess there was a bigger reason.  Call it spitting in the eye of society if you will.  In the morning’s news feed was an article that Kitchen Collection is closing all 160 of it’s stores — after closing some 100 earlier in the year.  It seems that there isn’t enough pedestrian traffic to keep the stores open.  Approximately 800 jobs will be lost.

There was a time when you could find kitchen equipment at a lot of retail outlets.  Here in Milwaukee we had Boston Store, that had a HUGE kitchen department — the store went out of business.  Sears had a decent kitchen department — the store went out of business.  Target makes a pretense of handling kitchen goods, as does Walmart but their selections are pretty mundane. In Wisconsin it’s hard to find a store that has all those little geegaws that people like in their kitchens.  And soon, there won’t be any.

The thing is, the American consumer seems not to care that he himself, she herself, they themselves are killing their own society.  The world will not function very well if there are no small businesses.  People need jobs; local causes need local supporters; you can’t empty out all the retail space in the country just because you think you want lower prices.  Amazon will kill more than a lot of small businesses unless the consumer wakes up to the way in which we are destroying our own society.

you may explode in rageI used this same graphic a few days ago, but I want to pull it out again and “replay” it.

Humans will go on doing what they have always done.  If you want to be optimistic about climate change, about ending racial prejudice, about stopping violence against women, about any cause you might care about, be forewarned:  humans will go on doing what they have always done.

The process of change is agonizingly slow.  I can spit in the face of society and visit all the Kitchen Collection stores I want, but I’m not changing anything.  The two of us happen to like kitchen stuff and because there happened to be one of their stores near our summer place, and because there’s one only 30 miles away from us I bet we walked into one of those stores at least a dozen times in the last 12 months.  As retirees we have time on our hands, and sometimes we’ll get an idea in our head and we stop in while we’re out.  We may buy something, we may not, but we walk in the door and look around.  I’m not much of a “shopper” — most of the time I’m a “buyer” — not going into a store unless I have something I intend to purchase.  And getting to the last 1/4 of our life we aren’t in need of nearly as much stuff as once we were, that means we don’t go into ANY stores all that often.  We don’t “need” to buy stuff. We’re trying to get rid of stuff we already own.

But people near us need jobs.  People near us have bills to pay.  It’s partly my civic duty to help them.

A few months ago (maybe it’s been longer than months) the local grocery stores began installing self-service checkout aisles.  For a while it was a novelty.  Then there were more self-serve aisles installed.  Now there are still checkout registers fully manned by human checkers but not nearly as many as there once had been.  People are using the self-serve aisles and the stores are reducing the number of open attended aisles.

You can imagine the reaction.  A few people are irate that there are no checkers. They don’t want to check out themselves.  And they aren’t afraid to make it known that they are upset.

The thing is, there are still stores that offer full service checkouts.  The difference is that those stores charge a bit more to cover their overhead than the cheap-priced stores do.  Walmart and Kroger — the two biggest food retailers make their brand by selling at lower prices.  It would seem that the american buyer wants both cheaper prices and more service simultaneously.  And the reality of the matter is that they aren’t going to get both.  You can’t have cheap, cheap, cheap, and still get service.  If you want the convenience of next day on-your-doorstep delivery at the cheapest price you are going to have to see your neighbor out of a job because the grocery on the corner won’t be able to keep them employed.   And your free next day delivery will only last until there are no more local stores because when that happens there will be no need for the big online retailer to offer free shipping, shipping will be extra, and the cost of shipping will go up, and up, because there is a captive market.  The search for “cheap” will have backfired and the consumer will pay more and more and more because that is the way Capitalism works.

This year it’s Kitchen Collection and a few other brands that are closing.  Next year it will be a few more.  I’ll keep visiting stores when I need something, but I’m fighting a losing battle — I know that.  Still, I’ll spit in the face of society and do it anyway because it’s the only way I can support local business.  And the only way to support my neighbors.

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