Monday, November 28, 2011

both sides now

On the treadmill today, I tried to think what product there is out there in the world that would motivate me to stand in line for two hours.  At first I couldn't come up with anything.  But then I thought of one:  half off Nell's college tuition for a semester.  Yup, I'd stand in line for two hours for that one.  I'd camp out overnight.

And then I thought of various electronic gizmos.  If they were half off, and you were guaranteed to get one (not just the first ten people in the door), then OK.  I'd stand in line for a $200 iPad.  But those things, of course, are not available on Black Friday.  Ergo, there's not a chance in hell that I'm getting out there on the morning of Black Friday.

But I can't quite get up on a moral high horse about it, as any number of bloggers and opinionated people have done over the last few days. I have friends and relatives that love Black Friday.  It's like a game to them. They get all their Christmas shopping done and save a bunch of money to boot.  They look forward to it for weeks.  They carefully plan their strategy with maps and schedules.  I have one friend that has for years gotten up at 4:00 a.m. to go shopping on Black Friday with her mom.  She says it's the best time they have together all year long.  Who am I to judge?

Along with all the condemnations of Black Friday has come a similar condemnation of the big box stores.  And I agree with much of it--the exploitation of third world workers, for one.  But I can't quite go along with the lauding of small business that goes with it.  Some small business are great and I am happy to support them, even if there is a slight price increase over the big guys, and since y'all know how cheap I am, that's saying something.

But when we first moved here almost 20 years ago, there was nary a box store in sight, and the small businesses were not pretty.  You couldn't get diapers for under $15 a package around here, for example. And there was no such thing as worker rights. I had a couple of friends that worked for a locally owned retail store, and the business practices they were subjected to were not only neanderthal, they were illegal.  But unemployment was around 13% (as it is now), and they felt they didn't have any choice.  When a part-time, minimum wage position opened up at their store, they had over 100 applicants.

My friends, who were seasonally required to work overtime, did not get paid for overtime.  At all.  I'm not kidding.  They got store credit for overtime.  At a gift shop.  Call a lawyer, I said.  It would take one phone call.  But my friends needed their jobs, and they didn't want to rock the boat.  They liked their employers--that vaunted family atmosphere.  They just put up with getting paid for 40 hours out of the sixty or more hours that they worked during the Christmas season. But man, they had a hell of a Department 56 collection.

When Wal-mart and Costco moved in about five years after we moved here, it changed the entire atmosphere of employer-employee relations in our area.  Suddenly the employees had a choice, and they were lining up to work for the box stores.  Now that the box stores have been here awhile, and the small businesses have cleaned up their acts a little (and the really egregious offenders have gone out of business), that isn't as true anymore.  But I'm still not sorry we have box stores. 

So here I am on my own soapbox.  You should never have gotten me started.

You know, I read a comment on a writers' website from someone who was opposed to the use of the word "gotten."  I'd never thought about it.  But now every time I type it I notice it.  It's in this post twice, but I don't have the energy to figure out how to re-word those two sentences.  mea culpa.


  1. This post a great example of the "in moderation" theory because for every statement of fact, there is a counter argument that unravels it with one person's (or in your case, one town's) experience. No sweeping judgements work, ever. Except when they do... oh wait, I was also going to say "never say never" too. Lol, back to yesterday's remark of flawed humans for me then.
    (I know exactly what you mean about that word.)

  2. Crap, J.D.'s here and I'm distracted.

    "This post IS a..."

  3. Really well expressed! Both about Black Friday and the small vs big.

    When small businesses are good, they're great. My vet, for example. When we put one of our cats down at the emergency vet, which is large and bureaucratic, they had all these rules about at which stages I was allowed to stay with my cat, and I had to throw a shit fit just so I could stay with him as they drugged him. At the time I said "This is why people hate corporations dammit!"

    Whereas our regular vet let us be with our previous cat when he was put down. She doesn't go overboard with costly tests, and has a lot of common sense remedies. And when I was catsitting and I thought the cat had swallowed a string, she gave me free advice on the phone and was really kind.

    But I too have heard horror stories about working for small businesses. While you're always protected by the laws of the state, who can afford to go that route?

    Large companies usually have HR offices which protect workers to a degree. (They're really for protecting the company from being sued etc., but by extension that is sometimes good for staff.) The chain I used to work for became gradually more "proper" as the years went by and the company matured. They can still pull off BS if they want to, cause they know how to work the system. But overall people were no longer fired as easily, disciplines had to be really well documented, reviews had to be given on time etc. -- and things like overtime had always been followed properly.

    Mind you I'm in a lefty province woth strong labor laws.

  4. Thanks, LondonMabel-- I didn't see this until today. Great examples. We do know some great small businesses. In fact, we're using half a dozen of them to renovate this house we're buying, and they are terrific. But when they're bad, they're really bad. fortunately that's much less common these days than it was twenty years ago!