In the community, but not of the community

When you go out to buy some shampoo, a lamp, light bulbs, a new TV, shoes, or some other basic necessity for your house or yourself, where do you usually go?

Chances are pretty good you will go to a large, national retailer like Target, Walmart, Home Depot, Payless (in the shoes example) or Best Buy.

If there is a small store near you that happens to sell these things, say, on Bel Air's Main Street or on West Bel Air Avenue in Aberdeen, you will most likely still pass up that store and head out to a bigger, chain store. That is just the reality.

The Aegis (and The Record), as you might have noticed, tries to cover local events, shopping trends and reflections of national, umm, crazes. More often than not, these things happen at places like Walmart, Target, etc.

On Black Friday, for example, we'll be out there early in the morning along with everyone camped out to buy five TVs or threeBlu-Rayplayers, or however many electronics people seem to need on Black Friday.

The day after Christmas, we try to see if a lot of people are returning gifts. More recently, with the Maryland Lottery offering "the world's largest jackpot ever!" I went out with a photographer to see if people were buying a lot of lottery tickets, or how the Mega Millions rush was playing out in Harford.

But, as usual, we didn't go to 7-Eleven, Royal Farms, or other chain stores where people are most likely to actually be buying tickets. (A winning ticket was sold at a 7-Eleven elsewhere in Maryland.)

We knew if we did, we would most likely be referred to "corporate," who would most likely be unable to say anything meaningful about people buying specifically at the 7-Eleven on Route 924, how many tickets were sold or what have you.

We went to independent businesses, which are the main ones willing to talk to us, and we did end up getting a pretty good story, if I do say so myself. (Hat-tip to Nicole Munchel, the always-awesome photographer who also made this story happen!)

But we didn't get the whole story, in my opinion, because we didn't talk to some of the main places people actually went.

This happens all the time in various ways.

Sometimes I stand outside a store and try to talk to people (totally politely!), and am told I can't do that. Sometimes I'll ask a salesperson at Harford Mall about some aspect of business, and get referred to "corporate" (who, like I said, won't have anything to say about that specific store anyway).

One time we tried to write a totally positive story about a woman who has worked for a long time at a major chain store in Bel Air, whom everybody loved and who was just a nice person in the community.

After a lot of haggling with "corporate," we were told we would not be able to interview her or photograph her in the store after all.

What does this corporation have to lose from us writing a positive story about a salesperson?? Of course I'll never know.

I don't blame the local store in this case at all, because they were very nice and did try to help us. A lot of managers of these local chains do their best to work with us, and I appreciate that.

My point is, these businesses come into the community but don't really act like part of the community in the sense that a smaller or independent business has in the past.

They obviously provide a huge service to people, and instantly become popular with thousands of people, or at least try to. They are clearly extremely noticeable, with their big-box buildings and giant signs. And they give lip service to caring about the community by donating to a local school or partnering with a non-profit.

But when it comes to giving meaningful information or being open to photographs – that is, being accountable to local press, and therefore the public – the corporation acts more like the dictator of a foreign government than a real community member.

In any given story we write that has anything to do with business, a chain store is likely to be the elephant in the room that we can't really talk about, or talk to. And that is a real shame.

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