King's Eye Land: Ailing city only attracts services

Soon, a mob of people united under the mission of shopping for things they don't really need will flock to Muncie's newest retail addition, Best Buy. As a man who proudly spends money I don't have on things I don't need, I'd like to be one of the first to extend a cheerful welcome to this new business. My wallet and I are delighted that you're here.

While I'm up, though, I'd also like to attack Muncie again, mainly because it's really easy for a little guy like me to beat up on his hometown, the Celebrated Big Dumb Lurch of Delaware County.

In a town where $7-an-hour jobs are the norm and the norm is the best, this new Best Buy will fit in beautifully. In Muncie, sex shops, bars and our 1,317 tattoo parlors intermingle with every fast-food and retail outlet that misdirected capitalist saturation can bring us.

Meanwhile, deserted factories are considered possible prime real estate -- for flea markets. I can just see old men palavering about the weather in PCB-laden surroundings haggling over velvet paintings, rototillers and lampshades. Hooray for a booming local economy.

I like Best Buy. Really, I always have. I'm as excited as the next music lover to know this new store will be an actual, service-driven (not commission-driven) retail outlet that will serve Muncie well. Best Buy stores are clean, well-managed and do not employ a drooling phalanx of a sales force that descends like vultures to carrion.

There's no better place for this retail giant's newest offspring than on Muncie's McGalliard Road extension, where every other red cent in Muncie seems to be rolling right on out to I-69 and off to somewhere else. Like a struggling branch on a dying poplar, the only living limb of Muncie has been growing toward the light of Interstate 69 for years. Meanwhile, the rest of the town withers away as industry -- once the trunk of Muncie -- dwindles away. We need businesses like Best Buy, but we also need something bigger.

Muncie has once again gotten service instead of industry in this new Best Buy. Preposterous economic planning continues to be the real thriving force in Muncie. Analysts argue this nation's industrial economy is giving way to a service economy. These same analysts also drive really nice cars, wear nice clothing and watch huge televisions -- all of which must have been manufactured, just not in Muncie or even this country.

Ball Corp. moved to Colorado. ABB closed its Muncie plant a few years ago. New Venture Gear was once called Chevrolet. Once, people didn't have to know someone who died or was about to retire in order to have hope of a job here. Once, managers practically gave away factory jobs, but not so much anymore.

Now, many factories still give new workers jobs, but these are really just 89-day auditions before they get cut loose just short of the magical 90-day mark, when benefits and union privileges kick in. Some people accept this temporary work. Others take low paying retail and restaurant work because these may not be great jobs, but stability goes a long way when you have a family to feed.

There are a lot of reasons why factories are leaving or are gone. Market struggles, labor relations, environmental issues and the lack of tax abatement are part of what has cost Muncie its industry. For some reason, however, this town has no problem attracting retail and restaurants.

"Once, a person could make a living in Muncie, but you can't anymore. You can buy, sell and trade all you want, but you can't make a living. There's hardly a middle class left. It's all low class and high class. About the only businesses on the south side now are stores and flea markets. What factories we still have don't hire often. Muncie is just one big McGalliard now."

My dad said that. He lost his job a few years ago. He was one of the lucky ones, though, because he got called back. Many people didn't. A lot of those people had to settle for something less instead of waiting for a phone call.

I won't settle for something less. I'll do as most Ball State graduates do -- I'll go away. That is, unless this trend is changed. In the meantime, my wallet and I will be waiting for Best Buy.

Write to John at


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