118. Aftermath

It’s an interesting word that comes from agricultural roots. A maeth was a mowing of a crop; so an after maeth was a second growth that required mowing. I guess a second harvest was noteworthy and very positive when food was so hard to produce in the late Middle Ages. Later on the word aftermath came to refer to results of some sort, simply the sequel to an earlier event. Later still, I suppose, it came to reference negative consequences. So nowadays when we speak of the aftermath of some event, it’s usually about a hurricane, a massacre, or some earthquake’s eruption, where things and people and institutions have been mowed down.

Out in the former fields surrounding our little town the chain stores and restaurants have taken up residency. First it was the big mall near Scotland in 1981. It never, I repeat never, reached full occupancy. Instead it has been the Killing Field of stores. Many have come and gone over the last 32 years. The place is a study in oddity. The larger anchor stores are at the opposite ends and in the middle. Then you have the gross movie theaters that needed a facelift twenty years ago. But wait, there are at least four jewelry stores in a mall that features discount shoes, bargain clothes, dollar store deals, and other low end businesses and empty storefronts. Why? At one time the mall was the equivalent of a covered downtown experience without the bad weather. However, this concept was lost along the way as malls actually decimated established downtowns across America. The Chambersburg Mall now resembles the downtown it helped to decimate, minus the charm. It has that dated ghetto look that screams of lost potential.

In the past twenty years or so we have witnessed the new phase of shopping malls that are not covered downtown experiences. Instead they bring the same package of stores and restaurants to open fields situated along high traffic interstates. You know the ones I’m talking about. There is an Old Navy or Kohl’s, a Pet Smart, a Staples, and the chain restaurants that share the same parking area– Panera, Fridays, Red Robin, Olive Garden, Red Lobster, etc. You know the drill. It’s convenient and uniform, and therefore familiar. The one I most dislike is Applebee’s. They glom onto a locality and decorate with local knick knacks and old photos to appear to be what they are not. Just to pick on them a little, here are some internet facts.

“The company, which recently finished selling most of its Applebee’s restaurants to independent operators, said third-quarter net income rose to $58.7 million, or $3.14 per share, from $15.5 million, or 85 cents per share, a year earlier. The latest quarter included a gain of $73.7 million from the asset sales, which was partially offset by higher income taxes and expenses, and the expected lower segment profit resulting from the restaurant sales.

Excluding items, the company earned $1.03 per share in the latest quarter. Analysts on average expected the company to earn 93 cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. Total revenue fell 18 percent to $216.3 million, but beat analysts’ expectations of $202.6 million.  DineEquity bought the Applebee’s bar-and-grill restaurant chain in a $2 billion leveraged buyout in 2007.”

“Eating good in the neighborhood” takes on a whole other meaning when you follow it with record profits and a 2 billion dollar leveraged buy out. The question becomes WHO is Eating What? These places that inhabit the crossroads of America are eating the downtowns of America wherever they pop up. It’s a sad tale really. You take a town that has struggled to build itself up over decades, even three centuries around here. Through the ups and downs of agriculture and industry, a community binds itself together with schools and churches and companies and housing developments. The local folks work together over decades to solve problems like pollution, traffic, parking, noise, crime, recreation, fire and flood. And however imperfect the product is, it is the result or the aftermath of local human struggle over time. The problems and successes belong to the folks who have their skin in the game.

Now behold the swooping opportunism of national and multinational corporations. They do a demographic study; buy up land near an interstate exit; rush through a wonderplan of development; demand substantial tax breaks; and then attach a money vacuum hose to the nearest town. These large chains cannot be intricately involved with the communities that they descend and feed upon. Their relationships are within their own corporate hierarchy not with the local neighbors. Unlike local businesses, mega-businesses move fast and replicate like a virus. They have a uniform plan that is cost effective. They are on television ads across the nation and can profit in ways that are not available to single entity businesses.

These interstate open-faced malls are the latest growth in the fields around our town. At first everyone is excited that there are so many more options for shopping and eating. Finally! A Red Lobster or a Ruby Tuesday or an Olive Garden. Now we are like every other town, which is both the up upside and downside of these interstate exit ticks. Every exit resembles the last one you passed as you drive across a homogenized America until it becomes the Uniform States of America. But what is worse than the aesthetic insult is the fact that local money is going upstream into corporate coffers where high end VP’s and CEO’s plot profits and live a life unimaginable to the local peasants who support them.

Aftermath, after our downtowns are mowed over and the only hardware store is Lowe’s or Home Depot out at the mall. After pharmacies become as quaint as phone booths. After local breakfast joints lose to Bob Evans and Cracker Barrel and coffee shops surrender to the Starbucks Evil Empire. What then? We will be poorer in our communities and in our connectivity to each other. Corporations have no soul, folks. No matter how many local photos they display, their profits are headed to Wall Street.

I suppose the next transformation may come when we leave automobiles behind and return to our downtowns to meet our needs. Then the open-faced malls will be left behind in the blighted aftermath that we call progress.

2 thoughts on “118. Aftermath

  1. This describes Elizabethtown KY to a T. We are a little larger population-wise than Chambersburg due to the proximity of Ft Knox, but we are the typical interstate exit town, in our case, I-65. Downtown has been dead for years, the locally owned stores and restaurants gave way long ago to the Wal-Marts, Targets, Lowes and every restaurant and fast food outlet imaginable. The last remaining farm (86 acres) within the city limits was sold last year and has been subdivided and zoned commercial. The growth has been phenomenal in the 5 years we’ve lived here. The locally owned stores now are tattoo parlors, gun stores, pawn shops and flea markets.

    • Yeah, it’s a sad deal for small town America. We also have the omnipresent warehouses that employ big numbers for low wages. The Chamber of Commerce types think this is great, but their families don’t ever set foot in these sweat shops. Same crapper, different wrapper. Human nature does not change.

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