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When bigger gets in the way of better

Green stampsby Yvonne DiVita

Time to go shopping. Time to get groceries or birthday gifts or home goods. I search the ads in the Sunday paper (yes, we still get the Sunday paper), I look at my email and check the incoming from my favorite stores and... I sigh.

Bigger is not always better. 

That's what I think. When ready to shop, I seldom - almost NEVER - go to Walmart. I call people who shop at Walmart 'walmartians'... and if you're one, I apologize but...seriously, do you know what you're doing? You're supporting big business when small business really needs your help. 

While Walmart is the favored place to shop, with Targee' (fancy spelling of Target) a close second, I think, it wasn't always so. Back in the day, when I was a kid, we shopped for groceries and some home goods at the A&P - the Great Atlantic & Pactific Tea Co. They gave out green stamps - not loyalty cards. You licked the stamps and put them in books and when you had enough, you could get free stuff. It was our job, we being the kids, to lick the stamps and put them in the books. You had to have LOTS to get anything. Much like the loyalty points on my bank account... I have about 10,000 but it gets me little or nothing. I need 100,000 to get anything that's worthwhile. 

My dislike of Walmart and my growing dislike of Target stem from the belief that these two giants think they own the world, and by virtue of that, they own me. I am limited, they believe, in where I can go to get good stuff at good prices. Of my weekly budget, they expect me to shop at one of their stores and 'save' money. Because they say I will save money. 

Back in the day, A&P thought the same, I guess. According to a book on the subject, Marc Levinson's The Great A&P and the Struggle for Small Business in America, "In the 1920s, Levinson notes, the average urban family spent a third of its income on food, traipsing from dry-goods store to butcher shop to produce vendor in order to find what was needed to put together a meal. What that family got was often lacking in nutrition — without refrigeration, retailers found it difficult to keep milk, poultry and produce fresh and in stock. (NOTE: book is an affilate link)

"As A&P built increasingly larger and more diverse stores, leveraged its buying power and took advantage of advancements in refrigeration and mass canning techniques, it made shopping faster, easier and cheaper. By 1951, the average American family was devoting only 21 percent of its income to groceries and beverages. A decade later, it was just 17 percent."  Woman with wallet

On the surface, then, it's true. Shopping at an A&P (yes they are still in business in several states) or Walmart or Target, can save you money. You won't REALLY know if you're getting inferior goods, will you? The last time I shopped at Target, well... it wasn't a pleasant experience and the food we bought wasn't worth my ever going back there for any sort of consumable, again. Bigger is not always better, as I started to say way back in the beginning of this note.

The reality that bigger is not always better goes across industries. Grocery stores and big chain restaurants aren't always the best places to get the best products or food. I do frequent chain restaurants, like Red Lobster and Olive Garden and Chilis, but I also like a change of pace from their average, ordinary fare - and when I step out of that comfort zone to eat at a local restaurant, I discover A&P-storeswhat good food really tastes like. Just saying.

Here's what I think and you are free to write in and disagree - I think local, small shops are better for us than big chain stores. I think little has a lot to offer and even if the pricing is higher, when you buy local, when you support a store that offers more unique products and has honest to goodness customer service, you're supporting the future of your children.

It may mean you buy LESS because goods are priced a bit higher than the big chain stores. But, shouldn't we all be learning to do more with less? I mean, for the environment and more? You may not find exactly what you were looking for (being in the habit of buying 'this' or 'that'), but you will surely find extraordinary goods that may surprise and delight you.

In the end, I shop at our local grocery chain which, in essence, is a big box store of its own, I know. But, I also know they get their produce locally and they they support local businesses and they have pleasant, fun, happy people who check me out. 

Bigger isn't better when bigger exists only to pick your pocket. That's what I think... Walmart and Target are in the business of picking pockets. That's my rant for the day. Learn more about A&P here. Study them - there is much to learn about business in general from their rise and fall. 

Lip-sticking is part of an online influencer network for Business on Main. I receive incentives to share my views on a monthly basis. All opinions are 100% mine.


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I mostly agree with you. Smaller shops have the potential so much more control over inventory, quality and most of all - customer service. I think there are some great examples of big business done well, but I definitely miss the days of mom and pop shops (grew up in a small town!)


S & H Green Stamps!! Oh my God. I haven't thought of those in a very, very long time. Those, and the Sears catalog. Those were the days.

I usually try to buy local (produce, fish) and hand-made arts and crafts. It freaks me out that most orange juice in my grocery store is not from Florida instead of California, but Indonesia! Srsly? We have to expend all the resources necessary to move orange juice from southeast Asia to L.A., where I grew up with 6 orange trees in my backyard?

I'm hard pressed to find other products that aren't made in China, and once you go there, it's just a hop, skip and a jump to Amazon, Target or Walmart.

I always thought I'd never go to a Walmart, then realized that that was really only because we didn't have one in Los Angeles. Now we do and I probably go once or twice a year, Target much more often, and Amazon has made a fortune off of me.

I love Austin because there's so much 'local' stuff there... Non-chain restaurants, farmers markets, every bar and restaurant has good live music. They even still have an awesome video (DVD) rental store. Ours have all gone to the Red Box and the Internet.

Jean Huang Photography

I completely agree. Of course, I can be biased as I consider myself a local business. :-)

To the extent possible, I try to support the local businesses, including restaurants. This is my way of supporting creativity and uniqueness, which does cost more. However, can we imagine a world that's uniform and tastes the same? It's upon ourselves to make sure the uniqueness survives the capitalistic bulldozer.


I remember the A & P and the local mom and pop store. I wish they were still around.

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