The Wal-Mart Economy and the Destruction of America

Reader Steve Jozik writes to bemoan the catastrophe that befell Martinsburg, West Virginia when Wal-Mart came to town:

 I just stumbled across your article on the Martinsburg, West Virginia Wal-Mart and wanted to give you my perspective.  I grew up in Martinsburg from when I was born in 1979 until I graduated high school in 1998.  I now live in the Outer Banks of  North Carolina and go back home a few times a year to visit friends and family.  I never noticed if the Martinsburg Wal-Mart was much better or worse than any other Wal-Mart, but I tend to find them all somewhat depressing (I liken them to a poverty perpetual motion machine).
I do, however, have a different grudge against that Wal-Mart.  The Martinsburg Mall (especially the Wal-Mart) killed downtown Martinsburg.  A number of my friends either owned or had family who owned businesses on Queen Street or in the old outlet mall.  All of those businesses have been closed since the mall was constructed.  Wal-Mart caused all of those personable entrepreneurs to close shop and really changed Martinsburg from a unique town with a lot of character and history into another bland piece of suburbia.  My home town lost a lot of its charm not long after Wal-Mart came to town.   I still have a special place in my heart for my hometown and think the surrounding area is beautiful, but I am not sure if it is the kind of place where I would want to raise my kids.  National corporations have taken over the entire town and left few niches to be filled by local entrepreneurs.  I miss the small mom-and-pop specialty shops and being recognized when I stopped in.  Martinsburg is too small of a town for me to feel so anonymous when I walk into a business.  Wal-Mart has taken so much from Martinsburg, and all we got was some "Chinese-made breakable crap".  Next time you go into that Wal-Mart, please thank them for sucking the soul out of my hometown.

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.


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