It’s been said so often that the assertion never seems to be in dispute: Walmart killed Mainstreet U.S.A.

The notion may go unchallenged, but it’s as ludicrous as it is wrong.  I was just referred to a thoughtful essay by a person I’ve never met and know nothing about, Scott Doyon.  He has a refreshingly original perspective on the Walmarting of America.  He reveals right away that he does not shop at the mega chain.  But neither does he begrudge anyone else the opportunity to shop there.  Scott does not enjoy the Walmart experience, and because he is lucky enough not to have to watch every few cents, he can afford to shop where he chooses.

“I believe that, everyday low prices aside, their net impact on communities — financial, social and environmental — is often a negative,” Doyon writes.  ”And regardless of their phenomenal global success, I don’t particularly admire some of the tactics that have gotten them where they are today.”

Fair enough.  Doyon has the luxury, as he puts it, of being able to “vote with his wallet.”

I’ve been thinking about Doyon’s essay and about Walmart a great deal lately.  Walmart is considering opening a store in Hollister, you see.  My first reaction was a mixture of Chicken Little and a more sanguine desire to see some of the local sales tax dollars that have been pouring into Gilroy for the last few decades captured locally.

I think I’ve stepped into a Walmart two times in my life.  And like Doyon, I didn’t particularly like it.  But that’s my decision.  Please make your own shopping decisions with every confidence that you will not be judged by this consumer.

We organize history by eras, and all of us of a certain age have survived the end of one era and the beginning of another.  As we passed a new Panda Express outlet in Hollister over the weekend, we marveled at the line of people waiting to get a few scoops of generic Chinese food ladled out of steam tables, when a “real” Chinese restaurant waited just across the parking lot.  We both observed that many people — especially many of those lucky enough to be younger than us — gravitate toward the comfort and certainty of the homogeneous experiences that chain stores promise.

But Baby Boomers are the last to remember shopping in historic downtowns not dominated by chain outlets.  Just the other day, as I was talking about the changing landscape for local media, I reminisced about shopping in downtown Hollister, where in the space of a few blocks, one could buy a suit, some hardware and housewares items, a few yards of fabric, some work clothes, a bicycle and auto parts before mounting a stool at a genuine soda fountain for a grilled cheese sandwich and a chocolate Coke.

It’s a fond memory because it’s filled with more than the goods sold and bought.  We knew the gentlemen who repaired our watches and bicycles.  The guys at the hardware store sold screws and nails, but the advice was free.  A trip to San Benito Street was a way to enter a community, and to be with friends.

But we all participated in killing that main street, with every shopping decision we made.  Here’s what I’ve finally come to believe:  Walmart is Mainstreet U.S.A.  What we once had — the opportunity to visit with one another in the process of finding all the things we need and want in a compact, walkable area — is offered behind the welcoming doors of your nearest big box emporium.

And, it’s offered for a few cents less and often at the investment of just a little less precious time.  As Doyon said, we’ve voted with our wallets, and we’ve overwhelmingly voted for the big chains.

Certainly, the efficiencies of time and money figure into it.  But there’s more at work.  When I see people leave Nob Hill in Hollister, then get in their cars to drive to Togo’s or Papa Murphy’s across the parking lot, then drive to a spot closer to Target for their next errand — still in the same parking lot — I wonder at how cars have come to dominate our lives.  At downtowns everyplace, merchants and planners scratch their heads over parking solutions intended to solve sagging business woes.  It’s said that fully half of the land area in most American towns is now devoted to accommodating cars.  And that spreads everything out, making it a logical decision to drive from one part of a parking lot to another.

The downtown I remember disappeared from Hollister before any of the regional decision-makers at Walmart ever knew Hollister was anything more than a brand name for trendy clothes.  Once again, Walmart didn’t do it to us.  We did.

But what we have instead looks like a lot of other downtowns — a mix of restaurants, boutiques, offices and services.  It’s certainly not less.  It’s just different.

Can it be different again?  I think so.  But it takes a host of decisions, as Doyon notes: decisions relating to tax incentives, transportation issues, systemic obstacles and land use regulations.  In short, without a shared commitment to planning for the future of our communities, our communities will plan themselves for us — and often not in the ways we would most like to see.

Doyon urges us all to guard against the complacency that’s shaped so many of the places we live this way: “commit to the better mousetrap.”

I can’t say it better than that.