Bless the Little Man 

Don't get caught in the $6 billion 'e-commerce' Web

There's Johnson's Hardware and Morgan's Jewelry. ... They were the little men. ... I go back now, and it's as if they've never existed. ... There goes the little man."

Alan Jackson's "Little Man" is a ballad for thought, especially during this high-prosperity shopping season. Every dollar you spend on holiday presents can help your community -- but not if you mindlessly buy into the e-commerce hype.

The tragically hip click-and-buy message is pecking Americans into submission. TV ads, newspaper articles, billboards -- a dot-com even showed up on a Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon. Experts expect (or perhaps hope that) online shopping will triple this year -- perhaps $6 billion or more, reports The New York Times. I know: We're immersed in capitalist prosperity, it's a high-tech world, what else can we expect?

But the frenetic e-hype doesn't mean that we masses should just fall online. We just need to think before clicking. Foremost, does it make sense to send all that precious revenue outside our local economies? How can we expect to build strong, financially sound communities if we let Silicon Valley and the Redmond-Seattle gaggle convince us we need to spend it all online and thus concentrate the nation's wealth in a few (their) e-commerce hotbeds?

If you doubt that a piece of the $6 billion would make a difference in the community, go talk to Judy Noyes at Chinook Booksellers or Richard Skorman/Little Richards. Ask them the percentage of their annual revenue that comes in during the holiday-shopping season. Then, picture all those strip malls out along Academy Boulevard where an original gift is as rare as Dubya Bush knowing a world leader's name. Yes, Amazon.com might give Media Play a run for its customers, but that corporate nightmare will probably survive the e-tailing onslaught (by joining it). But between chain-mania and now e-commerce, the little guys soon will be extinct.

The irony is, this e-greed disconnect is coming at a time when communities around the country are starting to wake to the horrendous results of corporate bulldozing. Entire communities have been wrecked, old trees chopped, historic buildings razed, only to be replaced by chain eyesores and parking lots and robotic commerce. Movements are springing up to twist back the clock on such stupid decisions -- but, all the while, we're bombarded with the "virtues" of e-commerce.

Why be so shortsighted this time around? We have the power: Just say no, or at least limit online shopping to one or two items, spreading the rest of the wealth inside the community -- where sales tax goes a lot further than the same amount of "shipping and handling" costs do in, say, Seattle.

Reject the what's-good-for-dot-coms-is-good-for-all rhetoric. It's not about you and me. It's about pilfering money from our communities, and even homogenizing the shopping and information landscape. Wouldn't you rather receive (and buy) a variety of unique items that reflect a region's diversity? I'm so bummed when faraway relatives send presents from a ubiquitous mega-chain. Sure, it makes returns easy -- but is that really a standard for the perfect gift?

Another benefit comes with e-rejection as well: rebuffing online Darwinism. By refusing to play the e-shopping game, we minimize the chances of the fittest e-tailer driving what should be a dynamic, interactive medium. The Internet is a wonderful tool for communication, research, political organizing -- but not if we sell it out to the highest bidder. (No, I don't cruise eBay. And I fear that a big, red L would suddenly swell on my forehead if I started bidding for ketchup on Priceline.com.)

Simply refuse to present the corporate monsters the Internet on a silver mousepad. If you see a link to Amazon.com for a book you want, write down the title, and buy it local next weekend. Shop for original gifts from local shops. Or, at least, frequent Morgan Jewelry's new Web site.

Heed Alan's warning: "The people go around, but they seldom think about the little man who built this town before the big money shut 'em down and killed the little man. ... God bless the little man."


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