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Brown/My Turn: Think outside the box

The day after we arrived in Taos, N.M., Lisa and I went shopping at the local Walmart. It was not something we wanted to do. We were renting a partially furnished house and our moving truck was two weeks overdue. We needed lots of stuff and were too exhausted from our five-day cross-country drive to shop at more than one location. Unfortunately, the store had everything we needed.

Afterwards, I went to a nearby church, lit a candle and said 10 “Hail Al Normans” in penance.

Since then, I’ve been back a few times only because things we need can’t be found in Taos and the nearest town with more extensive shopping is an hour-and-a-half away. A locally owned department store doesn’t exist here. So, for now, the rule is to go to Walmart only if there is no other place to get some particular item. Needless to say, I never buy grocery, hardware or garden supplies there. We have good area suppliers for that.

We have met others in our situation, friends from other parts of the country who were staunch believers in downtown enterprises, now forced to shop occasionally at Walmart. We try not to feel too guilty about it and feel like vegetarians who sneak out at midnight to eat cheeseburgers at the Whately Diner.

To be honest, the prices at Walmart are cheaper than most anywhere else, which I gather is its only appeal. Otherwise, it is a drab, utilitarian establishment that gives me a headache after I’m there for 30 minutes. You don’t go to meet friends.

But I am also aware that I live in the poorest county in the New Mexico and that such poverty is quite visible. Unlike in Massachusetts; dilapidated houses, sagging trailers and creaking autos aren’t carefully hidden in certain avoided enclaves. They exist under that wide desert sky for all to see. So, lucky as I am to be financially secure, I’m in no position to judge those for whom a tight budget is a stark reality, not a choice.

Still, the complaints about Walmart are right on target (pun intended). Their labor practices are vile and they have indeed destroyed more downtown infrastructures nationwide than can be counted. It goes without saying that if one were to come to Greenfield, Wilson’s, Foster’s and other cherished businesses (the Aubuchon’s on Federal Street is one of my favorites for its friendly and helpful staff) might become a thing of the past. The sad thing is that too many residents of Franklin County don’t seem to care.

Like Greenfield, Taos has a downtown area (centered on the original town plaza) but it mostly caters to tourists. This is not surprising seeing that the town’s full-time population is only 5,000 while it welcomes 500,000 visitors a year. The demographics include rich, middle-age Texans (you can spot them by their Cadillac SUVs) who buy expensive art and silver and turquoise jewelry as well as younger folks who come to ski in the winter and raft in the summer. Boutique shops, art galleries and restaurants fill up the other spaces. If you need anything practical, you go to the shopping strip south of town.

Recently, Taos underwent a minor hoo-hah when the town’s farmer’s market relocated in the Taos Plaza instead of its usual spot many blocks away. The plaza merchants were up in arms; worried that the Texans would be unable to park their lumbering behemoths and that they would lose money to shoppers buying tomato plants instead of Walter White (our state local hero) T-shirts. Fortunately, others made it known that the market was a worthy addition to Taos, which is a residential community, not just a tourist destination, although its economy is based on those who visit from afar. More important, outsiders come to Taos not for Walmart but because it is a lively area with great beauty and friendly people.

This should be a lesson for Greenfield. Anyone who thinks that a big box store is going to put the town on the map is mistaken. People might shop there but if you want them to linger, the town should have something better to offer than inexpensive items in an aisle. A vibrant downtown is a must and I hope that those who have been recently elected engage in some creative thinking outside the box. Whether that box is small or big will determine the fate of Greenfield for years to come.

Whatever one thinks of Penny Ricketts, Al Norman and Isaac Mass; they all have something in common: Each of them cares about Greenfield and has proved it through years of involvement. They might disagree on tactics and vision but they should never be disparaged as something they aren’t. Hopefully, the better angels of all their natures will combine to bring about a master plan to make Greenfield an attractive and productive location for all who live there.

Daniel A. Brown lived in Franklin County from 1970 to 2014 as an artist, writer, amateur historian, and photographer before moving to Taos, N.M. He welcomes feedback at dbrown1793@gmail.com.

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