The Town that Sam Built

ERRATA: The first black major league player was Jackie Robinson for the Brooklyn Dodgers. I have no idea where I got the idea that my brother chose to support the St. Louis Cardinals for this reason…but he confirms that I’m dead wrong and those of you who pointed it out, nicely of course, are right.

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We are in Bentonville, Arkansas this evening. Home of Walmart. I’d like to say this is a random event, but in fact we went a bit out of our way to be here. Walmart notwithstanding.

According the the US census, Bentonville had fewer than 12,000 people in 1990, 36,000 in 2010. On the surface, it appears to be one of the more prosperous communities we’ve driven through–though in truth, you don’t see much from the interstates. (We did leave the big highways for much of today’s drive, and get a taste of the Ozarks as they should be seen. Rolling, occasionally steep, hills. Stretches of farmland interspersed with woods. Small towns…most with their very own Walmart.)

Here’s why we’re here: Alice Walton, Sam Walton’s daughter and the 16th richest person in the world (Sam is the 20th), decided to use some of her riches to build an art museum on a hundred-acre plus piece of land on the edge of Bentonville. The gallery, Crystal Ridges, opened in 2011 and houses one of the best collections of American art in the country. We had planned to visit it today, but discovered it’s closed on Tuesdays so we will spend all day tomorrow and tomorrow night in Bentonville. Which is probably just as well since I expect tomorrow will be a very heavy traffic day in anticipation of the Thanksgiving holiday.

Anyway…and I’m rambling today…this town is a Walmart creation. Corporate Headquarters, a Walmart welcome centre in the original Walton Five and Dime, a Walmart distribution centre, the Corporate Suites where (gasp) we are staying–thanks to Expedia which identified them as the best deal in town. And indeed, the deal is pretty good. We have a very luxurious studio apartment for the price of a mid-level motel room. Very comfy.

This afternoon, we braved a cold wind and hiked for much of an hour on the nature trails that surround the art museum and are maintained by the Waltons. Beautifully, of course. We were met at the grounds by a friendly guy whose job was apparently to greet us (and make sure we didn’t try to break into the museum?). After our walk, we went in search of a grocery store. Our GPS told us there were 3 Walmarts (for 36,000 people!) and one other grocery store. We headed for the one other and found a demolition site with a sign that this was to be the site of  a new construction project. You can’t compete with Walmart–as retailers are discovering everywhere. We’re seeing it happen in the Sault. I guess that’s good news in this town…

I’m having a bit of trouble adjusting my ethical lenses here. I’m glad Alice Walton is using her billions to create an art gallery and to maintain a series of nature trails. And if someone is going to get a bargain on a luxury hotel room, it might as well be us. I suppose we owe a big thank-you to all those Walmart “Associates” out there who sacrifice their benefits and right to organize so the Waltons can support American culture and Expedia can offer luxury accommodations to folks like us at a cut rate.

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4 Responses to The Town that Sam Built

  1. sandysteer1 says:

    What a thrill to spend time in the town that Sam built! Hopefully the museum will exceed your expectations. Where will you spend Thanksgiving?

    Sandy

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  2. Marilyn Cooper says:

    I had read about Alice Walton’s museum. I guess it’s not unusual for sharp dealing business people to salve their consciences through “good deeds.” Think of Bill Gates.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

    • pdunning says:

      Sure. But I guess the thing about the Waltons–unlike, I think, Bill Gates–is the extent to which they abuse their employees, which makes their billions seem a bit like blood money.

  3. Janet Inksetter says:

    The ethical lenses are the same one wears at any of the 11,000 Wal-Marts. Let us know if you are forced to sit through a video.

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