February 2, 2006

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Manchester Publisher's Note: Chain reactions
By†Jody†Reese

OfficeMax, the nationís third-largest office products supplier, announced last week that it will close 110 stores across the nation, including the three it runs in New Hampshire. In Manchester, that means bye-bye to the local store on South Willow Street.

Itís not news in one sense, because itís the same old story: decision-makers at far-off corporate headquarters (in this case, Itasca, Ill.) are under constant pressure to ďimprove performance,Ē as they put it in an OfficeMax press release. No one cares much because the effect on a place like Manchester is often negligibleómaybe two dozen employees and one less place to buy file folders. OfficeMax wasnít a big part of the community. It didnít give to local charities.

Chances are you do a lot of your business with companies that are controlled by corporations in far-off places. They may offer nice products and services, but their commitment to this city and region is limited to how much money they can squeeze out of it.

So, like a lot of smaller American cities, weíre at the mercy of economic forces beyond our control, colonized by businesses that have every incentive to pump us for profits but not help the local economy or nonprofits otherwise.

Sure, many chains toot their horn about how much they give to charity, but itís superficial. Time and time again, itís local businesses that foot the bill for the Manchester Boys and Girls Club. Itís local businesses that support the Salvation Armyís Kettle Campaign. At one time, it was common for the local Sears manager to belong to service organizations, such as Rotary or Kiwanis. No longer. Now these local store managers are so focused on the bottom line (and have to be to keep their jobs) that charitable works are left undone.

These chains also let us down (and gut our local economy in the process) by their failure to make use of the local business infrastructure.

Wal-Mart does not bank at St. Maryís. OfficeMax does not use the legal services of Devine Millimet. The CEO of the parent company of Fileneís does not give to the Palace Theatre. And inevitably, this causes our communityís economic and artistic life to wither and atrophy.

In the end, itís we the consumers that have the power through our dollars to support local merchants and large chains that take a bigger role in the local community by supporting arts and social service organizations.

But we consumers canít be expected to support local businesses that offer substandard service, close for two weeks during the summer, close at 5 p.m. or charge substantially more for the same product a chain offers.

Chains are a part of life, and thatís not going to change. We, however, can change the behavior of chains if we use our dollars to force them to become more involved. Ask your local Wal-Mart manager to support your daughterís soccer team. Ask Best Buy to step up and give a projector to the Central High School. Itís a free country. These chains can say no, and you can take your business elsewhere.

The loss of OfficeMax means nothing to us and thatís a shame. These businesses should be part of our community. Only we can force them to.

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