KAI RYSSDAL: Lots of people complain about them. But way more people than that shop in big-box retail stores. So when they speak, everybody listens. Last week Wal-Mart said it'll cut prices on generic prescription drugs. Not two days later Target announced it's doing the same thing. Small world, isn't it?
In this edition of the Loh Down, commentator Sandra Tsing Loh says the essence of big-box shopping is community-building of a different stripe.
SANDRA TSING LOH: A friend of mine is protesting the possible arrival in her neighborhood of a big-box store.
Understand that she and her husband sold their tech stocks high, way back when, and were able to leave the rat race and retire early to a small, adorable town in Northern California. The sort that has coffeehouses, yoga studios and even its own winery. Where you can bring your own grapes! Not that I'm bitter.
So, yes, I can see why a big-box store would destroy their town's unique character. However, still stuck as we are in the multicultural maw of Los Angeles, under the connective armpit of several roaring freeways, let me be the first to say:
Thank God for Target.
As with most large, urban school districts, whites are a minority. In L.A.'s case, less than 10 percent. A number which includes Middle-Easterners and Armenians. Add to that Hispanics, Japanese, Filipinos, Russians . . . Muslim headknots are worn, saris flutter . . .
Which is all very colorful — lots of nodding and smiling — but that's about it. Then comes the day when you want to throw your — yes, blond — daughter a birthday party. The question: Who will come? How will they know? A real conundrum when parents speak five different languages.
So like I said, thank God for Target.
As my daughter has a September birthday, I kick off the year by buying and handing out party invitations from Target. Because there's a Target nearby, it's cheap, and swiping the Visa is a friendly cultural statement that's easy to replicate. I'll take that giant Sponge Bob Piñata, thanks!
Never mind the Iranian mom last year who distributed Spiderman invitations but left the RSVP line blank, unclear as to what RSVP meant. So what. The address was correct. And once there, we enjoyed our hood's traditional Capri Sun juice boxes, Pepperidge Farm goldfish, plates showing three different ethnicities of Disney princesses — Belle, Jasmine, Mulan — and of course napkins bearing Dora, who is a Latina.
It may not be as romantic as our own pinot noir, but for those of us who dwell in the wilds among U.N.-style mini-malls, what with the division of church and state, thank god or goddess for our One Nation, Under Target.
RYSSDAL: Sandra Tsing Loh is a contributing editor at Atlantic Monthly.