One Bizarre Chick Fil-A Thought

There’s a lot of heartache being thrown around chicken sandwiches these days.  I’m not sure how Dan Cathy feels about all of this, but Chick Fil-A is becoming a lightning rod for societal changes, to the point where I’ve actually heard someone referred to scornfully as “a Chick Fil-A Christian.” And I knew what he meant.

But then I think: That’s what would have happened back then, if businesses had worked the same.

‘Cause back in the 1960s, chains were the exception rather than the rule.  Oh, you had a McDonald’s or two floating about if you were lucky, but most businesses were thoroughly local.  There were Woolworths, but not in every town.  And so when you sat down to eat, it was generally at some place that a guy in town owned wholesale, and didn’t take much guff from the home office, because he was the home office.

The idea of an America unified by shopping was still decades off.  You shopped at local stores, for local people, and maybe you liked the Woolworth but people would have thought you were crazy if you’d worn a shirt with their name on it.  You didn’t take pride in your shopping the way you would a sports team. Your self-esteem wasn’t tied up in it.

But if it had been, then the exact same thing would have happened.  The Greensboro Woolworth’s would have been the site of a Negro sit-in, and the owner would have kicked the issue up to the home office, and the chain would have determined that no, black people can’t sit there, and wham.  Suddenly you would have had these outbreaks of pride between the anti-Negro factions who’d clasp Woolworth’s to their breast for being the right kind of store, and the anti-segregation folks who condemned Woolworth’s as a shop for dumb rednecks, and we would have seen boycotts and national Woolworth’s love-in days, just the same as now.

And there’d be some people going, “Really?  We’re having all this heartache over a goddamned five-and-dime?”  And they’d be right.  And meanwhile, Woolworth’s marketing department would be having a cow, and to this day – if we thought of Woolworth’s at all – we’d think of it as “that racist store.”

It’s happening now.  Only difference is, in the past fifty years, we’ve all been sold on the idea of not just picking sides with people, but with stores.

 

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