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Big Fish, Bigger Fish

by Jeff Elliott

When Wal-Mart Comes to Town
Wal-Mart button Hank was sitting on his favorite park bench when he felt someone tapping his shoulder. "Room enough there for two?" the stranger asked. "I know you," Hank began, rummaging for the memory. "You're... you're... Howard Eel!" He leapt from the bench and wrestled the man to the ground. "Hey guys!" Hank called to the two distant figures scrounging in a trashcan. "Lookee who I got here -- Mister Big-shot Tycoon himself!" The others rushed over and joined in beating and kicking the squirming Eel.

"Ouch! Ow, stoppit!" Howard pleaded, covering his head. "What's this all about? I don't know any of you people." This statement brought an angry howl from the tiny mob.

"Oh, don't you now," snarled the man holding the WILL WORK FOR FOOD sign. "Remember Sam's Shoes? Well, I'm Sam -- you drove me out of business!" He whacked Howard with his sheet of cardboard.

"I'm Connie," said the woman in the tattered dress. "From Connie's Clothes. Six months after your warehouse store opened, half the stores downtown closed, including mine!" She rammed her shopping cart overflowing with aluminum cans into his shins.

The man sitting on Howard's chest pummeled him with renewed vigor. "And I used to own Hank's Hardware. I knew some of my customers for twenty years. I gave them credit when times were hard. EelMart ran me out of business too!"

Howard scrambled to his feet and cowered behind a tree. "It wasn't our fault," he whined. "We didn't force your customers to come to our store -- they just came because we sold stuff cheaper. Look, it's too bad your little mom and pop stores couldn't match our low, low, everyday prices, but that's business." An empty bottle whizzed by his head as the group advanced towards him.

"Besides, haven't you heard? EelMart has gone out of business too," he said.

The news stopped them cold. "What?" Hank asked.

"Don't you read the newspapers? We're all gone -- EelMart, FoodMart, KMart, WalMart, and the rest -- all closed. Ever since last year when they opened that new store -- MartMart." The former shopkeepers looked at him with blank eyes.

"It's the biggest Mart ever. They have everything -- literally," Howard explained. Aisle after aisle. You name it, they sell it, and cheaply. They undercut our prices by half."

Sam gasped. "How can they afford to do that? Your warehouse stores were already selling goods cheaper than I could buy them wholesale."

"Simple. You knew that EelMart bought most of its goods directly from Asia, right?" Heads nodded. "Well, MartMart bought...Asia."

"They bought all of Asia?" the three shouted in unison.

"Well, all the sweatshops and prison factories, at least. Now every paper clip, pair of jeans -- whatever -- is made exclusively for MartMart. They drove us out of business in two weeks flat," he said, pausing to spit out a tooth broken during the fight. "Oh, I don't blame them -- I just wish we had thought of it first. Sure, maybe EelMart couldn't have afforded to buy the whole place, but we could have scraped together enough for a subcontinent or two."

"And now I guess you're out of a job. You're just like us now," Hank said. Their fury spent, the three flopped wearily on the park bench.

Howard brushed off his dusty coat and joined them. "I suppose so. Little fish are eaten by big fish. Then the bigger fish comes along and gobbles up everybody." They sat together and studied the dirt on their shoes.

"Remember the good old days?" Hank mused quietly. "All those nice little shops downtown."

"And the ones in the mall," sighed Connie.

"All family-owned," Sam chimed in.

"And a shiny new EelMart just down the road," Howard added wistfully. The group fell upon him again and beat him soundly.

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Albion Monitor June 5, 2001 (

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