January 9, 2014

LaVern Dirkx isn't a spy, some Stasi-style operator earing in on the lives of others.

But he loves Carroll. He lives and works here, and is now serving his third term on the Carroll Community School District Board of Directors.

So he sent me a text.

People should just know something about Christmas shopping, he figured.

For the last several years, Dirkx, founder and president and chief craftsman for Dirkxys - a highly successful home business specializing in wooden crosses and Nativity scenes - has manned a kiosk at Jordan Creek Town Center mall in West Des Moines.

Shoppers from around Iowa and beyond purchase his Christian-themed items. Dirkx is busy selling, and even employs a former Carroll resident to help.

He also engages in people-watching, the second-most-popular mall pastime (OK, maybe third, if you count eating).

And Dirkx, who understands what small merchants mean to Carroll and what the local-option sales tax does for our schools, cities and counties, didn't like what he saw at Jordan Creek this just-past Christmas season.

Too many familiar faces. More than usual, too.

"It was kind of troubling," Dirkx said when I called to follow up on his text. "There's a ton of Carroll people shopping at Jordan Creek. I saw it more this year than ever."

Dirkx didn't take names or keep a head count of Carroll County residents.

"I don't want to be a squealor on this," he said.

But the presence of Carroll people in Jordan Creek just jumped out at him in November and December. There weren't just a few more folks. There were "way more, way more," he said.

"A lot of them don't see me," Dirkx said. "They're on a mission."

Like Dirkx, this newspaper, and the Carroll Chamber of Commerce for that matter, doesn't want to scarlet-letter anyone as a Benedict Arnold for shopping at a mall in Des Moines or Omaha, Neb.

The fair approach the chamber has taken is this: It asks Carroll-area residents to give Carroll merchants their first shot at the shopping dollar, whether it is for Christmas gifts or at any other time of the year. Don't like what you find in Carroll's commercial area? Ask a local merchant to order it for you.

Still no luck? Well, sure, then a trip out of town is in order.

I'd take it a step further. Kill the casual purchase. Don't buy anything outside of the Carroll area without first thinking about what you are doing.

The money you spend in Carroll rolls over many times, boosting the lives of your friends and neighbors, and both school systems.

Carroll High benefits from the local-option sales tax. Kuemper Catholic High School fundraisers rely on local businesses' donations for capital campaigns to give their school a separating quality.

I am not familiar with the Cheesecake Factory or Victoria's Secret or Abercrombie & Fitch making contributions in Carroll.

Those sick kids around Carroll, the ones with cancer or some other awful medical challenge, whose families can't afford medical bills? It's Carroll residents who people the pancake breakfasts and chili feeds to lend a helping financial hand

I know the siren song of Jordan Creek mall, its 125 stores and 9,000 parking places, is terrifically alluring.

But like the Des Moines suburbs for which it serves as a temple of commercial excess, Jordan Creek is a soulless place.

With it's jacked-up prices, conformity-celebrating inventory and franchise-driven ownershop model, the mall is the very antithesis of the rural Iowa Main Street, the courthouse square.

Suburban sprawl is changing our state. It's gobbling farmland and creating new generations of Iowans living in places literally without history or meaningful identity, the nourishment of shared stories, the very foundation of what makes Iowa, well, Iowa. What a thrill it must be to be from Waukee.

When you spend money at Jordan Creek mall you are making a direct contribution to the Suburbs in Favor of the Demolition of Rural Iowa Political Action Committee (which, of course, doesn't really exist, but functions with devastating practical effectiveness nevertheless).

So here is the call to arms from this rural Iowan. Take ownership of your consumer dollars. Give them name and mission. Send them into the storm of capitalism for more than gluttony and acquisition.

Make your money count.

Be proud of where you spend your dollar.

Deep down, you know this is right. Be honest. Do you really feel good about yourself when you leave Jordan Creek Mall?