• Otter Views: Resale gets an unfair shake

    by Tom Stevens

    PG’s resale shops – and the resale concept in general – have been taking some tough shots lately from promoters of newer, brighter, and swankier futures.

    To hear the critics tell it, resale shops are shameful indicators of a moribund economy. Their presence in city centers especially is viewed as a sort of creeping parasitism, like crown of thorns starfish despoiling a healthy reef.

    It’s an easy case to make in a society that lionizes supermodels and hedge fund billionaires. If we lived the American dream as spun out by Hollywood and Madison Avenue, there would be no resale stores, and we’d all be shopping on Rodeo Drive.

    Besotted with this fantasy, some civic boosters seem to feel that if PG’s resale stores will simply self-deport to the hinterlands, supermodels and hedge fund billionaires will swarm into town like bees to honey. Sales of caviar, sable coats and vacation homes will surge.  Prosperity will return.

    Somehow, I don’t see it. The 2008 mortgage-swap swindle that enriched Wall Street hedge funds doesn’t look likely to benefit Main Street anytime soon. Instead, homelessness and poverty continue to spike as unemployed millions seek jobs that America’s captains of industry sent overseas years ago.

    Couple those productivity losses with an aging population and two long, ruinous Middle Eastern wars, and you have a nation staggering under debt and unable to pay its bills. Something has to go. Increasingly, that looks likely to be the social “safety net” woven during the Great Depression.

    As Congress cuts funding for social services that support the poor, the elderly and the underemployed, resale shops are going to become more important, not less desirable.

    That’s because resale shops embody “social capital,” the aspect of capitalism most easily overlooked by Rodeo Drive oligarchs. Any community’s true wealth is not its per capita share of supermodels and billionaires, but its network of willing, committed and caring citizens.

    From what I can see, Pacific Grove is blessed to have benefit stores and the dozens of volunteers who staff them. While society’s larger safety net frays around them, PG’s resale stores raise funds for homeless people and homeless animals, for troubled youths, cancer sufferers and the home-bound elderly.

    The stores also serve otherwise unremarkable citizens who lack the limo fare to Rodeo Drive. Need furniture? Clothing? Cookware? Small appliances? Random tschotchkes? Affordable art for bare walls? PG’s resale shops have you covered like a nearly new lamp shade.

    And that brings us to recycling. As America slowly recovers from the conspicuous consumption hangover so aptly satirized in the film “Wall-E,” we’ve veered back toward the idea that things can be owned and used more than once. Although championed by progressives and environmentalists, recycling is at heart a conservative practice.

    Ironically, one of the things it conserves is a community’s reputation. All over the country right now, empty storefronts, shuttered factories and abandoned buildings are what Wall Street’s “masters of the universe” have bequeathed to hometown America.

    As America’s “last home town,” it is to Pacific Grove’s credit that benefit shops are “recycling” retail space that otherwise would stand empty and dark.

    So give me a break, Rodeo Drive. As both “value-added” recyclers and wellsprings of social capital, PG’s resale shops are useful, helpful and economically vital. And the citizens who staff and support them deserve better than some thoughtless slap-down.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on September 21, 2012

    Topics: Otter Views

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