As I write the Walmart cover story this week, my mind keeps returning to one person. He was the one at the end, near the three-hour mark in the meeting, who approached the microphone and simply said, “I got my start at a Walmart. I just wanted to thank them. Maybe this new store would help someone else get their start too.” As I looked around, people’s faces turned to dismay and a few even sighed in disbelief probably thinking, “How could anyone say anything good about them?” But, he did. He was the lone defector, the only one to stand up and speak a positive word about Walmart. He took a risk to say thank you and to tell his story. He had the courage to speak against the crowd.
As I reflect on the night, I wish I would have gotten a chance to talk to him afterward. I didn’t even get his name (rookie reporting mistake). But, if I did, I probably would never print it for fear his home would be bombed. You Cubs fans out there know what I mean. You will never forget the 2003 championship and the name Steve Bartman, the fan who reached out and grabbed the now famous Bartman Ball which became the turning point in the game. I was so worried about that overly excited Cubs fan, and I would be worried about this overly grateful former Walmart employee too.
But seriously, I admired him. He had the courage to stand up and speak, after all the emotional testimonials against Walmart, who most in the room considered the enemy or in one resident’s words, “a community killer.” I wonder if I would have done the same in his position? How often do I back down and remain silent, especially when I’m the minority?
The meeting on Tuesday is one I won’t soon forget, especially that quiet stranger. Actually, there was another memorable person of the many who stood out that night. He was a man who had moved from Fishers to Zionsville (I didn’t get his name either, darn it, and my recorder ran out of space – rookie mistake No. 2). He responded to Walmart’s statement about accomodating Zionsville shoppers by being open 24 hours with the words, “Have you ever gone to downtown Zionsville after 9 at night?” With that, the crowd burst out in laughter, and I did too.
May the Village continue to prosper with all its unique personalities, glorious quirks and adorning character and charm with or without a Walmart.