Commerce has a way of making capital colourless. Heres a corrective. (All names and figures are sheer guesswork and offered for illustrative purposes only. With apologies to Frank Capra.)
Sarah Zupko is a little girl in Red Deer, Alberta. Her Dad took her into town today. Its January 4, 1948. Her Dad stops at Woolworths for a coffee at the counter. He falls into conversation with his friends, other farmers, there: crops, water tables, combines, silage, almanacs, Indian summers and spring.
Sarah is pretty sure she couldnt care less. She wanders though the aisles and comes eventually to rest in front of an illuminated glass case. There under glass is a watch, its perfect little numerals marching around the dial, delicate hands now still, and a metal band of cunning silver, a bracelet really. It is $9.60.
Sarah visits the case and the watch on every visit into town and magically on her 9th birthday, in late March, the watch is hers. The birthday party, thunderous with farm children and festivity, falls silent. The watch is hers.
The rest is economics. The Woolworths store in Red Deer keeps half of the $9.60 and the Chicago distributor keeps half of whats left. By the time Mr. and Mrs. Zupkos $9.60 finds its way into the Woolworths fortune, it has become 33 cents.
Value has migrated from a glass case to a large vault. But it does not stay there.
The Woolworths are building a summer home and 7 cents is spent to help hire men to clear the land that runs down to the point. The value Mr. Zupko extracted as winter wheat from prairie soil will actually now return to the ground as Mrs. Hudson, wife of one of the laborers, spends part of it to buy the seed for her summer garden. A dime will go to help pay for Mr. Woolworths dues at the Century Club and part of this will be spent on that bees wax that is used to give club chairs and tables the glow they give off in the light of the fire that burns all day in the library. Another dime will go to the grand tour that the eldest Woolworth daughter will take to Europe that year, a trip from which she will return with a taste for poetry and men who are a little bit dangerous. A few cents will even go to help pay for the clasp that holds the necklace that Mrs. Woolworth wears to the social event of the season, where it will be eclipsed by the still more magnificent jewelry worn by that jumped up Mrs. Chetwin, a creature who has finally pushed Mrs. Woolworth from her accustomed place of splendor.
The Woolworths family are a little like the mouth of the Fraser River, the place from which the tiny purchases made upstream by little girls in obscure places come rushing into the world, released from transit and their colorless state as mere capital, into labor, summer homes, spring vegetables, bees wax, grand tours, poetry, necklaces and social failure.
We’ve said nothing of the upward flow, how the value created by Woolworths working its way into a glass case and a watch and from there into parental solicitude, and a little girls sense of herself. The watch that played the conduit for this flow upwards and downwards now sits in an antique store in Winnipeg, Manitoba, once more in a glass case, waiting for another chance to turn commerce into culture.