Wake Up, Levi's: Americans Looking for Small-Town Fit

By McClellan, Bill | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), January 22, 1997 | Go to article overview

Wake Up, Levi's: Americans Looking for Small-Town Fit


McClellan, Bill, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


WHEN IT COMES to reading the public mood, Levi Strauss could learn a thing or two from Bill Clinton.

In his inaugural speech this week, the president stayed away from a word he once used almost as a mantra. That word is "change."

The president understands - thanks, I'm sure, to focus groups and polls - that as we lurch uneasily toward the millennium, we are not embracing change, but are, instead, holding it at arm's length. We sense that we are losing as much as we are gaining, and we have a dre adful feeling that what we are losing is that which has long defined us. Call it the Norman Rockwell vision of America. That vision was rooted in small-town America, a place where people worked hard and pulled together. Kids played baseball, doctors made house calls and the local stores were owned by local people. Doors were forever unlocked, only women wore earrings, and a joint, as the song goes, was just a bad place to be. It's true, of course, that most of us left that world years and years ago. Even before the big discount stores decimated the Main Streets of small-town America, urbanization had taken its toll. Seeking opportunity, people had moved to the cities. Still, most of us can easily trace our family histories back to a small town. Doesn't matter if it's Burnt Cane, Ala., or Hayti, Mo. Doesn't even matter if it's a generation or two removed. It's there in the collective American psyche, lurking at the edge of consciousness. Small-town America is the Eden we left behind. That's one reason, I think, that the current story out of the small Illinois town of Red Bud seems so totally outrageous. You may have seen that first story in Saturday's paper. Reporter Bob Goodrich explained that officials from Levi Strauss & Co. have decided that a 110-year-old country store does not fit the upscale image the company is trying to project. No matter that the store has been selling Levi's products for 48 years. No matter that the store sold $77,000 worth of Levi's products last year. All that matters is the jeans are placed on wooden shelves, and the floors are wooden, and the whole atmosphere is like, well, like an old-fashioned country store. …

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