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AFTER,:,OR BY C.B. EVANS , ,”. A4ri, . 40. . :$: ,?,-,,Z 1.,.NYAW tti t 4″… . !M.:,,% The Big Empty Won’t go back to Clarksville: An early Wal-Mart in better days, LEFT, and post-pullout. Fil or many residents of Clarksville, the seat of east Texas’ Red River County, 2008 arrived trailing a sense of doom. On December 31, 2007, after some 30 years of business, the local Wal-Mart had closed its doors. Clarksville isn’t the first Texas town to experience the shock and subsequent shudder of the giant retailer’s departure; Hearne lost its Wal-Mart way back in 1990. But I’m a Clarksville legacy, so to speak, so this particular closing was big news for me. My mom and aunt grew up in Clarksville, my cousin has made it his home, and my grandparents lived there most of their adult lives. As a kid, I visited them at least every other month, and I have many quaint memories of walking around the town square, shopping at Piggly Wiggly and eating red hot tamales \(a delicacy rarely seen west of Then there was Wal-Mart. It was located at the edge of town, on Highway 82, and we’d occasionally go there for some household good or another. At the time, I thought it was unique to Clarksville, and as it turns out, it was one of the first Wal-Mart stores in Texas. They didn’t yet exist where I lived, in suburban Dallas, which is now one of the most Wal-Martsaturated areas in the state. I’d go straight to the toy aisle, which offered only slightly more variety than the dime store’s. It seemed kind of goofy and pathetic in comparison with the Circus World at my local mall, but that’s what I liked about it. There was something delightfully quirky about its strange assortment of off-brand dolls and games no one had heard of. Later, as a young teenager, I got tentative driving lessons from my uncle in the parking lot. It was closed on Sundays, after all. Before I graduated from high school, a Wal-Mart appeared within a mile of my Garland home. My mom was thrilled, but I quickly discerned that the only thing this store had in common with the familiar one in Clarksville was the sign. The parking lot never ceased to be packed, and inside was chaos, though it must have been twice the size of the Clarksville store. It felt intentionally different to me, rolled out according to research on suburbanites and what makes them tick. Or maybe it was just the swarms of suburbanites that fostered that impression. Unless I was a captive on my mother’s errand route, I avoided it. That was nearly 20 years ago, and since then Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has infiltrated Photos courtesy of C.B. Evans just about every urban and suburban area of the country, all the while maintaining its grip on small towns, not to mention its impact on other nations. In that time, anti-Wal-Mart activists have amassed documentation of the company’s deplorable treatment of workers \(especially women and undocumented on retail wages, manufacturing jobs, communities, small businesses, and the environment. Despite recent moves by the company to ameliorate its reputation, Wal-Mart remains firmly planted in the progressive imagination as an encroaching global evil. Clarksville, I imagine, was a poster town for the kind of place Sam Walton was looking to expand. It’s only 65 miles from the Arkansas border, for one. It also happened to fit certain of Walton’s criteria. Its population, for instance, has hovered near 4,000 for decades, which was in keeping with his early strategy of locating stores in towns with fewer than 5,000 people. And perhaps most important, there was nothing of Wal-Mart’s stature to be found anywhere in it. In other words, what competition did exist was merely “competition.” It existed in theory but posed no real threat. FEBRUARY 22, 2008 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 29