Wal-Mart means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Depending on who you’re talking to, it’s a job destroyer or a job creator; a signifier of poor taste or a proud badge of the heartland; an example of everything that’s wrong with America or everything that’s great about capitalism.
In small towns and rural areas, however, Wal-Mart is less a symbol and more a staple. In cities and city-adjacent places, people can refuse to shop at Wal-Mart as a political or aesthetic choice. In rural areas, that’s much harder to do. In some towns, Wal-Mart may be the only grocery store, or the only pharmacy, or the only place to buy books and DVDs. Wal-Mart’s supercenter stores are open 24 hours; in many small towns, they’re the only store with lights on after dinner time.
All of this, of course, is part of the Wal-Mart plan: They move in, push other stores out of business while simultaneously expanding their services—at some supercenters you can get new tires, new glasses, and a teeth cleaning—until suddenly you find yourself buying everything at Wal-Mart because there’s nowhere else to buy it. […]