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Shop till you drop 

Shhh. Did you hear that? It's the sound of Tom Comar rolling over in his grave. He's not dead mind you as far as I know but his dream of a Wal-Mart-free Atascadero may soon be.

The Oppose Wal-Mart spokesperson who ominously intoned "If Wal-Mart comes to Atascadero, it will change the character of our city forever" must have blown a grassroots gasket when he saw the announcement if he's even seen it yet. If not, allow me to be the bearer of Everyday Low Prices tidings, and please, shoot the messenger. I have a wicked hangover. That last weekend before Cal Poly started its classes was a doozy. I'm still reeling from whatever was in those Jell-o shooters I stumbled across at my fourth kegger.

But back to commerce. On the night of Sept. 18, Wal-Mart announced ta-da! that it has finally and officially submitted a new application for plans to build a combined retail and grocery store in Atascadero. Tom and his folks, who've been trying to put the "wall" in Wal-Mart ever since the megastore turned its corporate eye to the home of the Charles Paddock Zoo and the only In-N-Out Burger in the county, have done so to encourage "good economic development, which is sustainable, diverse, pedestrian, and environmentally friendly " Their words, not mine.

The anti-Wal-Marters, for their part, want you to believe that the chain has been encouraging bad economic development, which is devastating, monolithic, whatever the opposite of pedestrian is, and unhealthy.

Who to believe, who to believe? On one hand, you've got a group of people trying desperately to keep a ubiquitous facet of modern life out of their town, which still celebrates Colony Days every year. Can you smell the apple pie?

On the other hand, you've got a group that if you can believe the press release helmed by Wal-Mart Public Affairs Manager Aaron Rios "is the largest corporate cash contributor in America, also contributing locally to Central Coast area parks, public safety, healthcare, business development, youth and education programs."

Among the many other life-changing, near-miraculous benefits of said Wal-Mart are "saving the average American family more than $2,500 a year" and "competitive wages." How competitive? Not sure, but the press release notes that the Central Coast's average earnings clock in at $11.01 an hour. Besides making me extremely jealous and eager to talk to my higher-ups about a major pay increase, the number made me wonder: What does competitive mean? Is it $11.05 an hour? Does Wal-Mart round up to the nearest nickel?

And since I'm asking the tough questions, here's another one: What is local?

I've lived in SLO County my whole life, so I'm as local as local can be. My family came over on the Shredder Mayflower, which actually docked at Pismo Pier and disgorged the whole Shredder clan right there among the pigeons. We scraped the guano off our boots, planted our family flag right there in the sand, made peace with the natives (mostly tourists sucking on chowder from Splash Cafe), and started complaining.

But what about someone who moved here when they weren't even a year old? Two years? Three? Where do we draw the line? Is there a magic number, an amount of time it takes to live here before poof! you cease to be a Los Angelesian or a Bakersfieldonian or a San Fransicite and become a local?

I'm not the only one who wants to know. Atascadero Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Joanne Main has been asking that very same question, only she doesn't ask it as nicely as I do, so she's been taking fire from locals there's that word again who think that the Chamber should, of all things, be supporting local businesses.

Joanne certainly has been taking her lumps. Seems like there's a big fuss over what a chamber of commerce should or shouldn't do. The CEO, I've heard, basically equates the new "Buy Local" vision of Vision Atascadero with a "Don't Buy Wal-Mart or Other Chains" attitude. The nerve!

The visionaries just shove their hands in their pockets and whistle innocently. "We just want to educate citizens about local issues," they say. "And local means that the business is actually located in Atascadero, that the majority owner of the business lives in the county, and, for bigger endeavors, that the bulk of the outlets are in the county too." My words, not theirs. I'm great a paraphrasing.

So Joanne and others of her oeuvre root for opportunities that will benefit the local economy no matter where their roots lie, and Vision spokesperson Bruce Bevans and others in his camp cheer for the same, minus the "no matter where" part. But both sides' hearts seem to be local. It's like David versus David except that one David is actually okay with getting Goliath to lend a helping hand.

And that's what I just can't wrap my throbbing head around. Wal-Mart is Wal-Mart and local is local, and ne'er the twain shall meet. I wrote that myself. Sure, if a town wants to court big business in order to beef up its revenue stream or whatever, something like Wal-Mart will probably do that. But, golly gee, I do like to shop at hometown boutiques and independent retailers. Or I would, if my wages were actually "competitive."

Come to think of it, this area's never really done anything for me. The world and this county in particular owes me a living, but I haven't seen a dime of it. I can barely scrape up enough cash for some decent booze, which is why I troll parties near the campus every weekend. Maybe I'll just jump on the Always Low Prices bandwagon and thumb my nose at the people who honestly think that a Wal-Mart will put a wooden stake through the vampiric heart of small-town charm. Yeah, I've come up with better metaphors before.

Or maybe I'll just continue to do what I do best: Poke holes in puffed-up corporate cronies who put on a veneer of local boosterism to mask their commercial greed, while simultaneously whining about how I can't ever find what I'm shopping for or afford it if I do.

Call me hypocritical if you want. Just don't call me late for the next round of keggers this weekend.


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