Originally published in the Albany Student Press, 2/06/06

I really despise Wal-Mart.

I despise it for a number of reasons. Mostly because I know they treat their employees like crap. Partially because they actually make an effort to drive out their competition. I’ve heard some things that I am unable to cite, so I will not reference them, but Wal-Mart is not a good neighbor corporation by any means.

Of course, that they actually encourage their employees to apply for Medicaid, placing a burden on a community’s resources, irritates me as a taxpayer.

I solve this by not shopping there. I do not normally go around preaching about the evils of Wal-Mart, nor do I formally boycott it or tell people they are horrible because they choose to shop there. It is none of my business where other people shop, and if they want to go to Wal-Mart, then go. I just would rather give my business to Target.

Perhaps, though, what irritates me most about Wal-Mart is they embody everyone’s biggest fears about Big Box stores. And, in reality, Wal-Mart is the exception, not the rule. Yet it is always the exception that gives everyone else a bad name. I get just as angry at al-Qaeda for giving Muslims a bad name and the uber-conservative Religious Right for giving Christianity a bad name. The few teenagers who cause trouble at Crossgates, punishing the entire teenage population of the Capital District.

You get the idea.

I used to work in a local “Big Box” bookstore. Previously, I had always shopped at independent bookstores because, when I can, I like to support the little guy. However, I needed a part-time job, and they were hiring. Seeing as I love books, it seemed appropriate.

Borders Books and Music is a wonderful corporation. I no longer work there, however I still give them my business. The Wolf Road branch has the most wonderful, caring and understanding management staff, and the sales staff is literate, intelligent and very friendly. I cannot imagine there to be a better place to work (if you work in retail, that is) or shop.

In addition, Borders as a corporation is not only good to its employees (giving them 401k plans, health insurance and paid vacations), it is also good to the communities they service. They offer classroom discounts for teachers, they offer discount weekends for people in different professions – education, health, government, etc. – and they raise money for literacy programs.

While I would feel guilty giving Wal-Mart my business, I would never, ever feel guilty about giving my business to Borders.

Yet, there is still a bias against them. There are bands that have refused the venue because they want to “work with the little guy.” There are people who crinkle their nose in disgust at the thought of shopping anywhere but a small bookstore.

Borders – like so many other corporations – was a product of someone with a good business sense. The founder had an idea, some 30 years ago, to open a bookstore that also served coffee and sold music thinking that many of the people who like books also like music and coffee, and wouldn’t it be great to have it all in one place.

Just like Starbucks started out as a small coffee shop in Seattle. In fact, the original Starbucks was kicked out of its home at Pikes Place, because opening a second shop qualified it as a “chain.” Bill Gates started Microsoft in his parents’ garage. As did Steve Jobs start Apple in his parents’ garage.

There are some corporations, like Wal-Mart, that warp and mutilate the American Dream. But there are far more that embody it. Isn’t that what this country was founded on? The idea that anyone can make his own way, no matter who his parents are or where he got his education?

To hear how many of these multi-million dollar enterprises got started is humbling. And, to me, it is exciting. It is hopeful. It reminds me that the American Dream is more than just a dream – for many, it is a reality. And I feel pride for these people, who did not make their fortunes off of the backs of others, but made their fortunes by making their dreams a reality.

How can anyone call that anything else but inspiring?

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