I recall recently that, when I mentioned that the hegemony of big box stores is harmful to communities, a commentator replied, "I used to go into mom-and-pop stores when I was a kid, and I never noticed they were any friendlier than WalMart."
This was actually an illustration of how far the destruction of community in America has proceeded. This young person has no clue what living in a functioning community is like. He cannot envision any meaning to the term "community" beyond "person X is friendly during a commercial transaction"!
I was in WalMart the other day -- the local shops in Milford, PA, mostly having been wiped out, and the alternatives being Lowe's, Home Depot, K-Mart, etc. -- and the cashier was effusively friendly. A lovely, lovely lady. Whom I will never see again in my life. She was a friendly stranger, and not a member of my community.
Meanwhile, in Brooklyn, I am lucky enough to live in an actual (if still weakened from yesteryear) community. In an actual community, the shop owners may or may not be "friendly." But they know you. And therefore, when you are a couple of bucks short, they tell you, "Get me next time." When your kid acts up on the street, when you come back to pay them the two bucks, they mention, "Hey, I saw Tony down the block -- did you know he smokes? At his age!" When a friend needs to stay at your place, you can leave them the keys and they will hand them over to your friend. When you come back for the keys, they will let you know, "Hey, you hear about Joey Vongole? Heart attack: at his age! And him with three young kids." Then you know you should try to help out Joey's family. In short, they provide a portion of the glue that holds a real community together.
The personnel at the big box stores are institutionally incapable of providing that glue, no matter how "friendly" they are.
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