Next week while a bunch of fat old white guys parade around town imitating one of the greatest writers of our time, and the rest of the Keys gear up for Lobster Season, (more on that next weekend), the Key West Chamber of Commerce will be getting a visit from those lovable and oh so generous, ‘Oh, we only want what’s best for the Keys’, folks from your friend and mine…..Wallymart.
Yes, that’s right, it’s another meeting to assure the unassured, unfuddle the befuddled, and bullshit the bullshitters. In their continued quest to make sure not one single county in the country is wallymartless, the rulers of retail will be making another pitch to make sure their precious little store gets built out there on Rockland Key. I won’t be at said meeting but I’m guessing it will go something like this:
I’m sure they will bring something shiny to ooh and aah everyone with, balloons for the kids, and fun for the whole family. The C of C will be asking the tough questions however. Things like, ‘how much will they pay the worker bees’, and ‘will they be selling guns”. You know, all those hard hitting questions. And just to show how up to date and hip this meeting will be, all questions will be submitted on index cards.
I didn’t even know they still made index cards. The last time I think I used an index card was for a class project in 9th grade, about 45 years ago. Index cards? Really? No wonder I can’t drum up any app business.
This meeting is going to have about as much effect on what wallymart does as a straw poll currently has on the presidential election. Meaning none. These two scam artists will stand before the business owners, shakers and movers of this island, and tell them whatever they want to hear. In other words, they will lie. Wallymart knows damn good and well once the store opens, there will be no closing it. And once it’s open, they will do whatever the hell they want. Nothing short of a major hurricane will stop it. All they need to do is make the promises. Sure, they’ll keep a few. They’ll pay for things like the traffic light discussed in the link. They won’t allow overnight parking for rv’s. Wages? At first they may be in line with other Keys businesses. Housing? Don’t hold your breath. Gun sales? Ammunition first, guns later. It will happen.
And the one’s who are being bullshitted, the C of C, and the residents who will be affected by the traffic and construction, will all bow before the shiny objects, nod their heads in agreement, along with the county, and rubber-stamp this monstrosity to completion. Those of us who object, and write on our blogs, will not so much as make but a wee ripple in the fabric of time and space.
Wallymart will be here in 3 years, maybe sooner. Those who have wished for this boondoggle will be sooooo happy because they can drive out to Rockland Key and spend, spend, spend. Because life on an island is meaningless if you can’t buy stuff. There will be those who will look to the behemoth of bargains as the savior for employment. After all they did promise to be competitive with wages. And initially, they may come through.
A few may get hired at the unheard of wage of $10 an hour, which is pretty much what everyone else pays down here. If you are wondering how far $10 an hour goes in the Keys, imagine living someplace on the mainland where the cost of living is much more less, and making $3 an hour. It’s about the equivalent in wages here. Later on, as the store gets established and the initial run of employees is run off, (should take about a year), they will go back to hiring at minimum wage, treading the fine line between full time and part time labor so they can jockey around the benefit requirements. Make no mistake, this company did not become this big because they are dumb. They are experts at manipulating their worker bees for the maximum profit with the least investment. They can sweet talk any community like a hooker in a bar full of sailors on shore leave, walk away with all the money and not even have to slip a little tongue when they kiss you.
And of course, there will be the direct effect on all the local businesses in Key West and the Lower Keys. A lot of small businesses, some who have been here for years will be unable to compete with the low prices and larger inventory. They will have to close up. Some would argue this is not a bad thing. Prices at these small stores are higher, and sure, choices are limited. But when these big chains move in, and they have been for some time now, we lose something. The specialty shops, the staff who knows everyone in town, the personality of a shop, it all goes away. Local owners know the islands, they support the local causes, they sponsor the events. When they go, they are replaced by cookie cutter staff who are rigidly trained to follow a strict code of conduct for everything from how they dress to how they interact with the customers. There is no deviation, no personality, no enjoyment. I know, I’ve seen it.
I’ve been in local restaurants where the waitress will stand there and chat with you like she has known you all her life. Chances are you may see her the next day out on a kayak trip or charter. She is wearing a t-shirt from a recent event and can tell you how to find any attraction on the island. She comes back to the table frequently to make sure your drink is topped off and see what else you want. She has lived in the islands long enough to know how tough it is to make it here and any little extra she can do for a customer translates into bigger tips and the possibility of getting the same service in kind when she goes to other businesses.
At a chain restaurant, you feel like you are talking to a robot. Somebody in a uniform, conforming to a strict code of dress, usually not conducive to the weather, will take your order in a monotone voice. No emotion, no bantering, no deviating from the code. On the walls in the kitchen are corporate scripts on how to build the meals, with portions strictly rationed. There is no character, no individualism, just worker bee mentality. That is what wallymart and all the other chains bring to the Keys.
Nothing I say or do here will change anything. This blog is meaningless when it comes to fighting the huge corporate monsters who put profit above all else. But it makes me feel good to write about it. I doubt I will ever set foot in wallymart when it does come to pass. There is nothing I would ever want from there, and what little I do need, I can find in town or online. When it does open there will great and joyous celebrations up and down the islands. Ribbons will be cut, speeches will be speeched, and there will be a line of shoppers a mile long waiting to get to those $2 waffle makers. Those who made it happen will pat each other on the back and tell themselves what a good thing they did.
But in reality, all they did was take yet another piece of the Florida Keys away.
Really. Index cards?