Accidental Activist

Bedtime for Mom and Pop

When I wander around Wal-Mart and look at the rows of stuff lining the shelves, I ask myself - how many shopkeepers have we replaced?

By Ben Bull
Published February 15, 2006

I was saddened, but not surprised, to learn about the planned expansion of Wal-Mart in Ancaster (Hamilton Spectator, Wednesday February 1, 2006).

I grew up in a shop, so I have some understanding of the impact the Big Box revolution is having on our local merchants and community.

My Dad's Post Office stood at the end of a small strip of shops running along the side of Selby Road in Leeds. These shops were the focal point of an otherwise unremarkable neighbourhood. It is where my neighbours came to shop, shoot the breeze, and be together.

On Saturdays I delivered locally baked bread and cakes to my elderly neighbours. They, like everyone else in the area, knew me as Mr. Bull's son and as such I found it very hard to get away with any mischief (although I tried hard).

Everyone knew who I was and where they should go to rat me out for lighting fires, hopping hedges or harassing their daughters.

During the holidays, my brother and I would tag along with my Dad to the local bakery, where we would watch the Baker pour thick hot icing over the vanilla slices.

Our tummies must have spoken for us because most days the baker would fling the tray full of 'end bits' in our direction, and we would need no further invitation to scoff the lot.

Our little shop gave my Mum and Dad their living. It put food on a table for five kids and gave us a modest but comfortable quality of life.

A few years ago a huge Sainsbury's Food Store went up across the road. Before long the Selby Road shops had to stop selling local produce. One by one the young families that owned them moved out. Some of them closed down altogether.

The Big Box approach to retail has changed everything. Few of us can debate what it's done to the once quaint little town of Ancaster, what it will soon do to Waterdown, and what it's doing to our core. Our Buy More, Spend Less, Hurry up and Shop mentality is tearing away at the fabric of this town.

When I wander around Wal-Mart and look at the rows of stuff lining the shelves, I ask myself - how many shopkeepers have we replaced?

Do we really want to buy all these foreign made goods from Mega-Corporations who pay minimum wage and channel all their profits into off-shore accounts and CEO salaries?

And for what: To avoid talking to each other and maybe save two dollars on a toaster?

Maybe I'm romantic but I really think we shopped better years ago.

Brian McHattie suggested a few months back that Hamilton City Council impose a 'moratorium' on new Mall development. Nobody listened.

You may say, 'You can't stop progress' but you can certainly shape it.

I think it's time we started shaping ours.

Ben Bull lives in downtown Toronto. He's been working on a book of short stories for about 10 years now and hopes to be finished tomorrow. He also has a movie blog.


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By adrian (registered) | Posted None at

You can shape it, but the political will to do so seems remarkably absent. This will be a long struggle. I am often surprised when friends of mine announce they prefer Meadowlands, an appalling euphemism for a parking lot, over downtown. I drove past one of those semi-gated communities the other day in Oakville somewhere, the kind that has a big plaque, like a memorial to what they bulldozed, in the front with some sappy bullshit name. We drove by and my friend said, "As soon as we have the money, I'd like to get a house in there." I don't get it.

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By adrian (registered) | Posted None at

Incidentally, I will say one thing about Meadowlands, they have a big bookstore. This is the only reason I ever end up there, and I think it's a pretty good one. The Chapters there has books that I just can't find anywhere else. The downtown book stores are too small, when I need a copy of a book on programming, or Robert Fisk's excellent "The Great War for Civilization", it's the only place around that I'm aware of where I can get it.

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By jason (registered) | Posted None at

A 'fine' used bookstore is coming to James North soon - at Cannon. You're right though. Downtown needs a big bookstore that's open till 10 or 11 most nights of the week. When I lived in Portland they had Powells - largest bookstore in the world. Think of a complex of buildings like the warehouses at Cannon and Mary - they had 2 buildings like that, 5 stories high, all books. It was amazing. Obviously it took years to develop, but it would be nice if someone downtown started a store with big intentions. James St book cellar will be opening soon I'm told - its on James South near Duke.

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By Mike (registered) | Posted None at

Chapters is pretty solid.

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