Up in the Hollow: Running (for office) vs. driving (to chain stores)

As an old theatre trouper, I love getting good reviews and being praised. Who doesn’t? It beats the heck out of ducking rotten eggs and tomatoes. Several of my recent opinions have elicited some very positive agreement and support, in person and in writing, and I feel like I’ve just won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

It cuts both ways, of course. Last year there was an entire editorial page of irate letters bashing me for supporting the school budget; I was even accused of using “sarcasm.” “Lordy Lordy, a satirist is on the loose in the county! Call out the dogs!”

When my uncles got back from World War II, they ran a truck stop on Military Highway in Norfolk. I still carry the business card from “Steve’s Place.” As a kid I memorized the piece of doggerel on the back of it:

I notice when a fellow dies, no matter what he’s been,
Some saintly chap or one perhaps whose life is stained with sin,
His friends forget the bitter words they spoke just yesterday,
And now think up a multitude of pretty things to say.
But if it’s just the same to you, please give to me instead,
The praises when I’m living, the knockin’ when I’m dead.

But this week’s letters to the editor gave me a fright. R. Alcott wrote, “Is there anyone out there who can convince him [Ben Jones] to run for local office?” Mr. Alcott, you are too kind. But I have been talked into running for office before, with decidedly mixed results. Ask Eric Cantor. Ask Newt Gingrich.

No, my friend, I would rather be beaten with tire tools while having a root canal without anesthesia than throw my greasy old ball cap into the arena again. It is much easier and far more restful to simply sit back and put in my two cents worth every now and again.

And here’s my two cents worth this week: Alvin Henry writes that a Family Dollar Store would be a good thing for the county, for it would “employ 10 to 15 people and give the local citizens an opportunity to buy daily necessities without driving 20 to 30 miles.”

Well, Alvin, has it occurred to you that such a store would also put a whole lot more people out of work? There are plenty of opportunities to buy what Family Dollar sells right here already, at “mom and pop” operations run by local Rappahannock folks.

Family Dollar is a national behemoth with 7,000 outlets. They buy in huge bulk quantities, and they undersell the local competition. Which means that our commercial tax base would dwindle rather than increase, and that the local entrepreneurial spirit will be dampened. Geez, Alvin, if I can figure that out, why can’t someone on the planning commission?

And Alvin, we all know that the area is zoned commercial and is for sale. Yeah, we already know that – that is why so many of us are concerned. Your prediction of a dystopian future with drooling senior citizens on “large lots” being cared for by “guest workers” is a cartoon world that betrays a lack of genuine and truly visionary planning. We are a county filled with bright and talented citizens who want to maintain the unique nature of the place. And the unique nature of the place is due to the foresight and vigilance of previous generations of leadership.

We can be what we want to be. If y’all want a place that looks like the town of Madison, we can do that. But, if you want a place that looks like Rappahannock, we can do that, too.

Besides, the nearest chain store to Rappahannock is only four miles from Chester Gap, about five minutes down the hill. It’s in the first strip mall you come to on the right. It’s called Family Dollar.

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