Memories of Big Town

I suspect few Ashevilleans will remember the following: “The freedom of the press is a mighty sword; use it justly, hold it high and guard it well!”

It’s the banner for a great old radio program called Big Town, where the star reporters of The Illustrated Press were Steve Wilson and Lorelei Kilbourne (played by Edward G. Robinson and Claire Trevor). Apparently nobody at our local daily has ever heard about them, or even remembers what they stood for.

Back in the 1930s, local dailies were expected to champion local causes. In the end, that’s what really sells papers. But here, echoing the burgeoning successes of the 21st century, the Asheville Citizen-Times actually wrote an editorial a couple of months ago in defense of the proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter — the monster planned for the old Sayles-Biltmore Bleacheries site. Why? Because, gentle (and gullible) reader, things change. And instead of fighting the opposition, the best thing to do today is merely roll over and be punched to death by the March of Progress — but smile as you die!

Why did they take a position defending an act of development that would actually drive the first nail into Asheville’s coffin? Apparently, at least in my humble opinion, because they felt they might lose the Wal-Mart inserts in their paper, a paper that has become the thickest shopper in Christendom!

But did they have to worry? Of course not. Even if the Wal-Mart Supercenter on the Swannanoa River fails (and it may, in the wake of the Board of Adjustment’s vote last week not to grant a necessary variance), there will likely be Supercenters — out at the Gerber site, for example.

So, I’m throwing down an imaginary gauntlet and asking the following: In the fight to save Asheville from becoming a 21st-century “blob,” where are the voices of rebellion?

1. Where are the statements from all the old mayors of Asheville? Sure, the present generation of politicians is supposed to be on the fence, but not those voices from times past.

2. Where is the cry from the Sierra Club?

3. Where is the voice of resistance from the Audubon Society?

4. How about hearing from the Friends of the Earth?

5. How about proclamations from the Chamber of Commerce, many of whose members will be affected by Wal-Mart’s plans?

6. Let’s hear a hue and cry from Asheville Vision!

7. And how about voices of rage from Biltmore Village and the Biltmore Estate, not to mention the Grove Park Inn?

8. Let’s hear it from the Council of Independent Business Owners, too. When the world is dominated by Wal-Mart, what will happen to free trade?

9. Where is the hot opinion voiced by the developers of the Grove Park Arcade?

10. What’s happened to all those God-fearing churches? How about a few sermons on the pure greed of developers? How about words to help protect our neighborhoods? Why is it that Christians preach against Darwinism, unless it involves economics — i.e., mighty Wal-Marts driving out the small and weak. Then, it’s OK to voice the opinion, “Oh, they were too small and too weak to survive in the economic jungle!”

11. And where are the voices of the True Southerners — those folks who once stood up for what’s right, but today shrug their shoulders at the eventual destruction of Redwood Forest, in the name of driving a few less miles to find another pair of Chinese sneakers.

12. And how about the howls of rage from the Northerners, who come to live in Big Town, loving the glory of the mountains and the peace of the hillsides — but apparently still love that one-stop shopping to beat the band?

13. Where is the scream from our beloved Quality Forward?

14. We never hear the cry of rage from Bi-Lo or Ingles or Food Lion or the rest — grocery stores that might have to close their doors when faced with the onslaught of cheap Wal-Mart food.

15. And where were all the letters and complaints about eyesores from all those citizens who now suddenly care about aesthetics? Where were their cries about the ruins at the bleacheries site before the Wal-Mart Supercenter offered them another round of cheap merchandise?

16. How about letters of anger from all the travel agents who will probably lose business from the travel agencies that Wal-Mart sets up in some of their stores? Or the cleaning establishments or the photo shops or the last remaining hardware stores or all the other small merchants that are the lifeblood of Asheville — and will, in the end, all be affected by Wal-Mart?

17. Finally, how about hearing from Lowe’s and Sears, two appliance giants that just found out Circuit City is giving up the appliance line and Wal-Mart is jumping in?

I guess, in the end, it’s all reflected in the words of Martin Luther: “It makes a difference whose ox is gored!” And few of you realize just how soon your time will come!

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