You load sixteen tons, what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store
— Merle Travis, "16 Tons"
When a town is controlled by a single company. In Real Life
these were popular in the days before automobiles allowed workers to freely commute. A company would build a town to provide local services such as libraries and general stores. The downside was that many companies price gouged
and used debt bondage
to keep their employees from leaving for a better job in a form of Indentured Servitude
. Their prevalence was one of the factors that led to the formation of labor unions in the USA in the '20s and '30s, often with violent resistance from these companies, who employed Pinkerton Detectives
or similar to suppress labor organizing and strikes. Not all company towns were bad; some were created to provide a better standard of living and create jobs. Others exist simply because the town in question is so remote, no one else wants to move in.
The more modern version of this trope is a town with a single commercial organization that outclasses
any others nearby and effectively runs the area. Smaller, independent businesses do exist, but with little to no political influence in comparison. Unlike older versions, these towns can hold protests and rallies, but will be looked down upon as inconsequential insects from those within the imposing corporate tower
, if not ignored outright.
If the company has enough resources to build a town quickly, it's also a Boom Town
. Should the company in question go under, the town can become a Dying Town
or Ghost Town
. If it's not a company, but a family
running things, then it's closer to feudalism
. You can expect this trope to be Recycled In Space
, with Asteroid Miners
taking the place of Earth Miners
Overlaps with Industrial Ghetto
. Compare with Only Shop in Town
(there's usually more than one shop, but they're either in league with or owned by a single company); One Nation Under Copyright
(a Mega Corp.
owning a citystate or bigger); I Own This Town
(one person running things); Egopolis
: a town named after the dictator who controls it; and Elaborate University High
(for a collegiate version).
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Anime and Manga
- FLCL: Medical Mechanica may fill this role to the city whose skyline it dominates. or it might just be a giant alien steam-iron.
- Ghost Hound: Suiten has Dai-Nippon Bio that employes a lot of the town, but there are also smaller businesses on the side, like Tarou's parents' brewery.
- There was a series of Green Arrow stories where he worked alongside Green Lantern that played off of their divergent view of law and justice, and one story had them go to a mining town in the Rocky Mountains called Desolation, which was an example of the really bad type of these. As discussed here, the whole story is not very realistic, particularly in regard to having such a town still existing in the 1970s.
- Honest Corporate Executive Scrooge McDuck from the Disney Ducks Comic Universe owns just about every business in Duckburg, and if he doesn't own every business in the world, it's not from lack of trying.
- Matewan was set in Matewan, West Virginia in the 1920s, which was a company town controlled by a coal company. It told the story of people resisting this arrangement and forming a miner's union, facing harsh suppression by company enforcers.
- The Rundown involves a mining town in a remote part of Brazil that's run this way, at around the present time. The boss of the town, Hatcher, is brutal with his workers and pays them a paltry wage, which necessitates borrowing money from him and getting so deep into debt with him that there's no hope of getting out of it. Mariana leads a group of rebels that oppose this arrangement, calling it nothing less than escravidão — slavery.
- Outland has a company-town and mining camp, in the form of a mining station in orbit around Jupiter.
- In the RoboCop movies, Omnicorp's plan to level the current Detroit and replace it with a "New Detroit" that would be entirely corporate-owned.
- Raccoon City was this in the Resident Evil movies, built and owned by the Umbrella Corporation.
- Red Harvest is set in one of these officially known as Personville, but popularly called "Poisonville". The town is essentially the fiefdom of industrialist Elihu Willsson, "Czar of Poisonville", and Willsson established his control by hiring various gangs of thugs to help him "settle" a labor dispute and enforce that settlement. At the time the story starts, this has started to backfire on Willsson, as the gangs proceeded to fight for power among themselves and bring anarchy to the town.
- October Sky is set in Coalwood, West Virginia, a real town founded, owned, and operated by the Carter Coal Company and then sold to the Consolidation Coal Company (which became the Olga Coal Company...) to house workers at the Coalwood mine. Attempts to unionize the mine are part of the story.
- Proudhon City in the Hostile Takeover (Swann) series is owned lock, stock, and barrel by the Proudhon Spaceport Development Corporation, which keeps order on its own terms.
- In the Alliance/Union universe humanity's space stations throughout colonized space were run by the Earth Company, at least on paper. Until they rebelled.
- John Saul's Creature is set in a modern-day company town named Silverdale, Colorado, which doubles as a Town with a Dark Secret.
- Many business owners in Atlas Shrugged had towns named after them pop up around their businesses (ex. Marshville for Roger Marsh, Wyatt Junction for Ellis Wyatt). When the government sets out to rid the world of these greedy, selfish villains and their evil moneymaking ways, they reply, "Okay," and obligingly close up shop. The loss of each business triggers a set of Disaster Dominoes as the businesses that grew up around it close as well, putting more and more people out of work, thus causing more businesses to go bankrupt upon losing their customers...
- Eureka centers around Global Dynamics, with it's mayor even being a former employee.
- Firefly: Jayne explicitly uses this term for Canton, the ceramics workers' town on Higgins' Moon in "Jaynestown". It's one of the bad ones: Magistrate Higgins pays the workers almost nothing so he can get filthy rich, and they're mostly indentured so they can't legally quit. The RPG rulebook says that Higgins' son has been working to improve conditions since the episode, however.
- In The Secret World of Alex Mack, nearly everyone in the town works for the chemical company that sprayed Alex.
- Smallville originally relied on a creamed corn plant to keep the populace in business. The owners sold out to the pesticide company Luthorcorp under the promise that no one would be kicked out of work. So it should come as no surprise that the factory was bulldozed and replaced with a noxious fertilizer plant.
- In the episode "A Private War" of the TV show Guns of Paradise, a mining company uses strongarm tactics to try to buy or ruin all independent businesses in town.
- The Sliders episode "Season's Greetings" had the Sliders land near a city sized mall that was effectively one of these, turned Up to Eleven. Not only were prices exorbitant and wages low, but:
- Cash was not allowed, only the mall's debit accounts.
- Employees in the mall were required to spend 80% of wages earned within the mall. Failure to do so would cause your wages to be docked.
- Those who took on actual debt to pay for their purchases were forced to wear an electronic shackle that prevented them from leaving the mall.
- The mall was also secretly using Subliminal Advertising to get people to spend more money on things they didn't really need. Of all of these, this is the only thing the mall was doing that most people on that world considered immoral or illegal.
- Quarra, in the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Workforce", appears to be a Company Planet.
- Twin Peaks is the modern version, where Ben Horne runs both the hotel and the department store, with the lumber mill being the only major thing he doesn't absolutely control - and much of his plot arc is based around his attempt to take control of that, too.
- Classic Traveller Double Adventure 3 "Death Station". The adventure starts with the PCs on the planet Gadden, working at a small mining camp. The wages are cheap and the expenses are exorbitant, and the PCs are in debt over their heads to the company store.
- Exalted has the Northern mountain town known as the Coindelving, which manufactures and distributes the currency used by the Guild. Unusually for this trope (and the Guild as a whole), the Coindelving is actually a pretty decent place to live and work; the mines offer good wages and are a warm place to work in the icy nation, the workers are continuously praised for their work ethic and craftsmanship, and the elemental dragon who powers the furnaces also defends the town from bandits and monsters.
- In Shadowrun the Mega Corps take this a step further with extraterritoriality. On their property they issue their own scrip (only usable at their stores) and write their own laws, like it was their own country.
- Most nations in BattleTech's Inner Sphere have pulled Company Store tactics from time to time, though some of the most famous incidents were the Draconis Combine's attempt to assimilate the Wolf's Dragoons and the Federated Suns' hamhanded treatment of the Northwind Highlanders. Both ended tragically as the Dragoons ended up in a Pyrrhic Victory against Warlord Samsonov's forces on Misery, and the Highlanders, covertly backed by an agent of the Capellan Confederation who was a descendant of one of their heroes, decided to go independent when Katherine Steiner-Davion's actions triggered the FedCom Civil War, leaving FedSuns forces unable to keep hold of their homeworld of Northwind.
- Upcoming RPG Hc Svnt Dracones has an unusual take on it, large automated constructors made private cities and even islands affordable and many citizens dissatisfied with conventional governments moved to the new "corptowns". Tensions rose between the Megacorps and the old nations for several years and came to a point after MarsCo colonized Mars and began to genetically engineer sentient bipedal animals called "Vectors", which the governments saw as abominations and tried to exterminate. This led to Mars declaring independence supported by the Earth-bound corporations and open war with the governments, which became nuclear. MarsCo was the only significant power to survive the war, though in later centuries other Megacorps emerged, so pretty much everyone now lives in a corptown.
- Killer7 contains a subversion. The stage Cloudman takes place within a company town, but the end of the stage reveals that the company itself isn't even real, and the monolithic building the city is built around is just a flat prop.
- In Hitman: Absolution, the protagonist pays a visit to Hope, Georgia, the home base of Dexter Industries. The company owns and employs everyone in some shape or form, including the crooked police force. Civil protestors meet an untimely end in Sheriff Sturkey's jail (though officially, they "fell"), and everyone works in harmony to keep the money flowing. 47 essentially has to reduce the town to a smoking crater to mop up the corruption.
- In Star Trek Online, the player is sent to investigate a planet with a Romulan mining town, completely controlled by a Ferengi and a mining company. The people are living in squalor. They're allowed just enough currency to buy upgrades for their machinery, or food, but not both. The Ferengi in charge mentions how prices for food rations have doubled due to recent events. Further investigation reveals a hidden Romulan communications base, with the Romulans in charge paying off the Ferengi to keep quiet.
- Midgar (and Junon, and really the whole world) from Final Fantasy VII, a colossal metropolis constructed and ruled explicitly by the Shinra corporation.
- Finkton from Bioshock Infinite hits pretty much all the marks. Long, strictly-enforced working hours, pitiful wages that are paid in scrip only usable at the company store, and propaganda all over the place trying to convince employees they don't need things like sick leave or lunch breaks.
- In Kingdom of Loathing, Crimbo 2010 saw Crimbo Town replaced with CRIMBCO, a "Blandly Pleasant, Inoffensively Festive" corporation that paid its employees (i.e. Crimbo elves and adventurers) in scrip they could only use to buy food and drink from the cafeteria and tacky presents from the gift store.
- The Wolf Among Us has a strip club, "The Puddin' and Pie", be called a "Company Store" due to the owner charging his workers "fees" to stay there.
- Detroit Deluxe from Motorcity seems partly based on Midgar; while they're both Sci-Fi Company Towns built over massive slums, Deluxe favors the Ascetic Aesthetic in comparison to Midgar's Diesel Punk.
- Cypress Creek by Hank Scorpio's Globex Corporation is an interesting example of this from The Simpsons episode "You Only Move Twice"-Scorpio treats his employees very well, but he's also an affably evil parody of a Bond villain, who thanks to Homer) managed to seize the East Coast by the end.
- For list of company towns in the world, see the other wiki.
- The closed cities played a similar role in the Soviet Union, except they were usually built around state-controlled research institutes and military (particularly nuclear and aerospace) production facilities rather than privately-owned companies. Currently, both closed cities and the more traditional company towns exist in Russia, the latter tend to be concentrated in the resource-rich but severe Northern Siberia. Including a whole Company City, Norilsk.
- In Communist China, each Danwei (work unit—the socialist equivalent of a company) would not only have offices and factories, but also worker's housing, schools, restrauants, stores, gyms, entertainment facilities, etc enclosed in a quais-autonomous compound. Cities like Beijing would contain hundreds of these compounds, each dedicated to a different danwei. This allows each Danwei better control of its workers as they would spend 90% of their adult lives within the compound. As an added bonus, it saves on transportation fees.
- In Akron, Ohio, the former "Rubber Capital" of the US, the two biggest tire companies in the world both had their own sections of the city: Goodyear Heights and Firestone Park. While the companies have long since moved their manufacturing operations elsewhere (though Goodyear still has its corporate headquarters in Akron), the neighborhoods have kept their names and they're still two of the nicer areas of the city.