Big Box Stores Are Ruining Everything and Filling Us All With HateS

There's a certain amount of hate that's inspired by having to shop in a big box store like Best Buy or Walmart. The endless aisles, the bad lighting, the overwhelming amount of goods, and the often-terrible service can all make for a soul-deadening experience. And when someone rams into your leg with their cart, it can set you off in unexpectedly rage-filled ways. Aside from not wanting to lose your mind, there might be another very good reason to avoid these retailers: they appear to promote the presence of hate groups in the community. Suddenly the sale price on those giant tubs of mayonnaise don't seem nearly as appealing. (Okay, they're still a great value, but now we feel bad.)

It might sound crazy that something as bland as a Walmart could promote hate groups, but according to a new study it has to do with how they tear apart the social and economic fabric of a community. The study, which was conducted by professors at Penn State University, New Mexico State University and Michigan State University, found that the number of Walmart stores in a county correlated significantly with the number of hate groups in the same area. In fact, the correlation between Walmart presence and hate groups was more statistically significant than it was for other things that would seem more relevant, like the unemployment rate, crime rate, and lack of education.

Part of the effect seems to come from the fact that when a Walmart comes into an area, it drives local businesses under. Since owners of these businesses are often active in the community (in Rotary clubs, etc.), removing them from the scene can reduce community cohesion. Big box stores may also fray social bonds. Because they're so anonymous and huge, there's a sense that no one is watching people in them or around them. Social bonds are strongest when people feel like they're being closely watched, so if the opposite is true, it might make people feel like they could do whatever they like without consequence.

This study addressed Walmarts, but the researchers believe the effect is the same with any big box retailer. So, you can direct your hate over your ruined community in the general direction of places like Best Buy, Home Depot, Target (No, no, not Target! Their commercials are so charming...) Of course, the difficulty is that there is a flipside to having these stores in communities: they provide low-priced items for people who might not be able to afford things at smaller stores, which are often more expensive. And they do provide employment as well, albeit of the low-paying variety. But it's hard to know whether these benefits outweigh the many negatives that big box stores bring with them.

One thing that could help in both directions, the researchers suggest, is if Walmart and their kind used this study's data to try to figure out ways they can support local groups who are doing good things and building community ties. Will they do that? Eh. They're huge corporations with no particular ties to any one place. It won't make them any more money, so why would they bother. Unless, of course, an anti-big-box "hate group" sprang up and started preventing them from raking in the dough.

Do Big-Box Stores Help Create Hate Groups? Study Says Yes [LiveScience]