Brown-paper windows

By Emily Senger

Home sweet home. When home is an hour drive away and I’m balancing multiple obligations of work, school and some semblance of a social life, I don’t get home as often as I would like. Instead, I took a trip home for a couple of days over reading break.

Home, my town of just under 10,000 people, was very much the same as it always is. The streets were relatively empty, the pace of life was a little slower than here in the city, and the only place to go on Saturday night was the local bar, where trucker hats, belt buckles and mullets are considered fashionable, and the definition of art is the taxidermy adorning the walls.

But, there were small things about my small town that were different, things I only notice because I am seldom there. A few stores downtown went out of business. It might not seem like a big deal, but the brown paper covering the windows of the former Saan, Fields, and Dollar Stores is indicative of the presence of the big box store, and the loss of my small town.

Ever since Wal-Mart moved into the neighboring town of Okotoks, many businesses in my hometown have struggled to stay afloat. I fear that the big box store will be the death of my hometown downtown, and will turn a town that once had character into just another satellite of Calgary. When I see the small town stores closing down to make way for the Wal-Mart giant, the reality of the effect of big box stores really hits home.

Choosing to shop local reaps many advantages. Money from the community stays in the community where is belongs, and is more likely to support the local economy through reinvestment. The option to walk or bike to a local store also means less driving, and more exercise for increasingly obese people on an increasingly polluted planet.

The decision to hop into an SUV, fill up the tank with gas, drive 20 minutes and support a faceless, nameless multinational known for its horrific labour practices, just to save a few bucks, is something I don’t understand.

Even here in Calgary, we can take small steps to support independent business and keep the dollars in our own communities, rather than in the hands of multinationals. Supporting local business means making the trek to a local farmers’ market in the summer, paying a buck more for a CD from an independent store, buying a coffee from the shop on the corner, or discovering a family-owned restaurant, rather than heading to the always familiar chains.

I like to be able to come home to a sleepy town with distinctive shops, where I can remember a time before we had traffic lights, and before chain stores. I also like the prospect of a spending my money, whether it be in my hometown, or here in Calgary, in a place where the staff know my name and my dollars are going back to the people who deserve them.

Coming away from my small town weekend, I will remember the ominous brown papered windows of those local shops, and that image will stay with me when I decided how and where my dollars are spent.

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