A friend asked me earlier today a Wal-Mart question. I remembered this letter to the editor of The Economist that I wrote in 2006; I post it here at the Cafe for the first time:
In “Opening up the big box” (Feb. 25) you overlook a significant benefit of Wal-Mart – namely, by relieving Main Street’s retail spaces of the need to supply staple goods such as groceries and hardware, Wal-Mart frees these spaces to be transformed into ethnic restaurants, wi-fied cafes, art galleries, arts theaters, and specialty retail shops.
Wal-Mart makes downtown areas more diverse and lively.
Donald J. Boudreaux
This happy effect of Wal-Mart first dawned on me back in the mid-1990s when I lived near Greenville, SC. Many of my older friends in South Carolina – such as Bruce Yandle, the late Hugh Macaulay, and the late Wallace Trevillian – remembered Main St. in Greenville from the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. They described the hardware store that no longer exists on Main St., as well as the barber shop, the mom’n'pop grocery store, the diner, and the pharmacy. But the Main St. in Greenville that I knew (having moved to South Carolina only in 1992) was booming and lively with fusion restaurants, art galleries, wine bars, and up-scale gift shops.
See also here.