LOS ANGELES - I usually don't pay much attention to business stories in the news, but this story is different.
A major national chain of department stores has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
This is particularly alarming considering that after filing for Chapter 11, most chain stores close faster than you can say Woolworth's.
We will call the chain JMart.
Perhaps for some Americans this announcement does not mean much. For people who live in Beverly Hills or Martha's Vineyard, this is just another story on the financial pages.
I, however, grew up in the South, where the cultural significance of JMart cannot be overstated. In many small Southern towns, JMart is the very vortex of the community.
People meet at JMart. They sell their cars there. They use it as a point of reference - all directions start with "Do you know where JMart is?"
For teen-agers, particularly in towns with no mall, the JMart parking lot is the village green. Entire relationships happen within the confines of the parking lot. Children are conceived, brought to term and raised at JMart.
And, everyone, absolutely everyone, in town shops at JMart. Women get up at 5 a.m. so they can get there when it opens and buy the new Bambi doll for their niece, or the latest Tickle Me Waldo, or whatever kids can't live without this year.
Once you get used to shopping at JMart, there are all sorts of things that you start going there for - phone cards, film, batteries, CDs. Pretty soon you realize that the same stuff you buy at the mall at inflated airport prices you can get at JMart for pennies on the dollar.
Some people actually get snobby when you tell them you shop at JMart.
"Well, pardon me, Trevor, but if you must go to the Galleria and pay $48 for a pair of sweat socks, knock yourself out. Meanwhile, I'll go to JMart and get a 10-pack for $4.99." And here's the kicker: they're the same socks.
I kind of like the reverse snobbery of shopping at JMart. If you want to see real Americans, go to JMart. You'll see the backbone of this country. And sometimes you will see the backbone of this country smacking their unruly offspring.
JMart is famous for its "don't ask, don't tell" policy regarding corporal punishment.
If you think about it, it makes sense.
Women like to shop for hours.
Nothing is more agonizing for a little kid than being with Mom when she's shopping.
They eventually freak out from boredom and frustration and cross the Threshold of Doom.
Mom, instinctively enraged by being disturbed while shopping, is forced to apply the first handy item - maybe a spatula or a windshield wiper or a Tickle Me Waldo - to the fanny of the offending child.
I've never seen another shopper protest. If someone spanked their little Dylan at a department store in Marin County, they would probably be clobbered with tofu on the spot. Not at JMart, pal.
Nope. JMart customers will simply walk by, cast an approving smile at Mom, and go about our shopping. We may even lend encouragement - "Atta girl!" or "Put your back into it!"
Phil Perrier is a stand-up comedian and a free-lance writer who lives in Los Angeles.