Listen, My Children...

Every Little Helps

Friday, April 09, 2004

Mom and Pop Stores


The Bull Moose Republicans have a discussion going about Wal-Mart. Bill Fusz makes the claim, "The general store is dead, but niche stores can survive and thrive, offering service and goods that Walmart does not, or more personalized attention."

My family shops at a corner grocery store in the middle of Houston. Randalls and Kroger are both nearby (and are gone to if something very fancy or specific is needed), yet this general store still does well. It has changed hands once, but only when the original owners retired; it is currently owned by the owner of a little deli down the street, whose main changes to the store were to put in a deli section and to update the cash registers, which had been the old manual kind.

What makes this store so successful? Everything they have is sold elsewhere, at the same price or perhaps cheaper. They're within walking distance of my house, but other people drive there. The answer? They provide something Randalls and Kroger can't afford to: they sell on credit. I've been going there alone probably since I was six (it's a remarkably safe neighborhood), tugging my baby sister in the little red wagon where I'll put the milk and bread my mother's sent me to get. The people who work there will help me get the milk down and will take it out to the wagon for me, and I'll just sign my name and write my mother's name (now you have to add your phone number). No money required; no proof of ID; no bills come in the mail, either. Every six weeks or so, my mother walks down and settles her tab. Bikers, carrying no money, can decide to stop for a sandwich and drink. It's great!

So, to compete with the mass retailers, you don't even have to be a niche store. You can be a general store, selling groceries and magazines and underwear and crockery, and as long as you provide better services than the rest, you're in business.

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