Is This the End of Corporations?: An Argument for Small Businesses in the United States

critical debate lifestyle op-ed social impacts sustainable business sustainable living Sep 27, 2023

Yesterday I listened to one of my favorite podcasts, “Dark History with Bailey Sarian,” and this week’s episode was titled “Pumpkin Spiced Lies - The Secrets of Starbucks.” Apropos of the season? Yes, but what I found most interesting in this hour-long experience was viewers’ seeming willingness to completely renounce Starbucks.

Bailey explains the history of how Starbucks became one of the largest names in the coffee game, but with that success and almost total domination, has come a steady stream of controversy. From deforestation and child labor accusations to false recyclability claims and growth hormones found in milk, Starbucks’ past business practices have been questionable. 

Today, it seems like they’re trying, in some capacity, to do the right thing. They recently announced they plan to make all of their packaging (including cups) recyclable, compostable, or reusable by 2030. Is it the most ambitious sustainability initiative they could have undertaken? Most likely not, but progress is progress. However, not all consumers would agree with me - if you look at the comments under Bailey’s video, for example, you’ll see comment after comment of consumers saying they won’t support Starbucks anymore. 

We could spend hours talking about the difference between consumer sentiment and consumer purchase behaviors, but instead, I think this highlights an important conversation that’s ongoing in the United States.

We’ve grown accustomed to the comfort and convenience of corporate shopping. From Starbucks to Amazon, everything we could ever want is just within arms reach. But what people are noticing is that items have lost their special qualities and these mega-corporations have been selling us cookie-cutter items for decades. Fast fashion sells us all the same clothes, so we all look alike. Target sells us all the same decor, so all of our homes fit the same mold. You get the point.

There has been a massive shift in consumers supporting small businesses for this very reason. People are sick of shopping at all the same places and looking exactly the same as the person they walk by on the street. Plus, these corporate stores that used to be cheap are now just as expensive as that small business down the street from you. Why support the megastore that fixates on the bottom line when you can support the local shop that supports the community? 

Farmers markets, vintage markets, and countless independent businesses utilizing social media to get their name out there, have become commonplace. Instead of hyper-fixating on growth and capital, these groups emphasize slow consumption and enjoy being out in community, and it seems like consumers are receptive.

But, are these small businesses destined for the same fate? Is the system’s gravitational pull for forever growth too strong even for the heart’s-in-the-right-place business?

Bailey’s video may just be another signal that consumer behavior is changing, but it also looks like the U.S. government’s feelings on giant corporations may be shifting too…

Announced on Tuesday morning, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and 17 states are suing Amazon for monopolistic business practices. The lawsuit alleges Amazon is “a monopolist that uses a set of interlocking anticompetitive and unfair strategies to illegally maintain its monopoly power. The FTC and its state partners say Amazon’s actions allow it to stop rivals and sellers from lowering prices, degrade quality for shoppers, overcharge sellers, stifle innovation, and prevent rivals from fairly competing against Amazon.” 

This is the extreme end of things and so far, Starbucks hasn’t been accused of using monopolistic practices, but big business is big business. Unsustainable business practices, shareholder primacy, and bottom line thinking are shared by both Starbucks and Amazon and most of the other large corporations out there. 

By now, you can probably tell where I stand on this issue. Small businesses are the lifeblood of any community and in many cases, help bring community together. From small towns to bustling cities, there are small businesses all around the country (and the world) that need support from consumers like you and me. If you’re up for the challenge, walk around your town and see what small businesses you may stumble across. Before going to Target for your Halloween decorations, check your local thrift store for vintage decor. Before buying that book on Amazon, head to the independently owned-bookstore down the road from you. And, of course, before getting that Pumpkin Spice Latte from Starbucks, stop by that new coffee shop that just opened in your town.

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Have a great week! ✌️


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