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Why Buy From Mom And Pop?

My Grandfather Working in the Grocery Store in the Early1930s

I wrote this over a year ago, and wanted to share it with you because as I walk around my neighborhood, I can see signs that neighborhood business owners are stressed during these difficult economic times.

My grandfather worked several jobs over the course of his life.  During the Depression he was a fireman, and also worked as a grocery store clerk (above).  For years he saved his money and finally opened his own hardware store, just down the street from his home, where my dad grew up.  He built it literally from the ground up, building and all, and took it to great success.  His brilliant idea was to make a self-serve hardware store, where people could peruse the aisles and pick out what they wanted.  It’s standard now, but that was unheard of at the time.  

His hardware store was very successful for about six years, until the idea caught on and bigger national stores moved in near his store.  Quickly recognizing that he couldn’t keep up with “price gouging” of the big chains, my grandfather moved his store to a small nearby town that didn’t yet have a hardware store.  That town still had gravel streets and only a few businesses.  If any of you are familiar with the Seattle area, that small town was Bellevue.

So my grandfather sold his hardware store within a year of moving it, and stayed on for a year to help the new owner learn how to run the business. 

Today he and I lamented at how few mom and pop stores remain in our consumerist world.  When he ran that hardware store, my grandfather loved helping people build their houses, and he worked hard to cater his store to his customers’ needs.  Sure it was a business, but he also considered it a personal, community service.  

I believe the disconnect between the past system of personal service and the current system of corporate greed is a part of why seniors have such difficulty navigating the world today.  Just opening the mail is difficult, as so much junk mail looks like an official document (sometimes “official document” is even stamped on the front).  When seniors learned to navigate through the world sixty or eighty years ago, “official document” meant something.  Service truly had the individual’s best interest at heart.

There are a few mom and pop stores left in my town – maybe in yours too. Some of those stores do still have an individual’s best interest at heart.  But those stores are still slipping away into nothingness due to “price gouging”, as my grandfather calls it.  By supporting the large international chains to save a bit of cash, we are paying the price in other ways: we’re losing those individual interactions between community members, that special service, the unique items you don’t find in large stores, and the support of our local economies.  

So I encourage you not to fall into a trap of price gouging, and really pay up front what an item is worth.  Support a local mom and pop or boutique store to ensure that they stick around and continue to bring uniqueness, income, and service to our communities.

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15 comments to Why Buy From Mom And Pop?

  • A few studies have come out recently saying that for every $100 you spend at a big box store, $14 comes back to the community. That’s compared to a $45 return on $100 when you shop locally.

    In this economy when we’re all watching our pocketbooks just a little bit more closely, wouldn’t we rather support our friends and neighbors? There has been a concerted effort to buy local in my town, in addition to the increase in eating locally. But there is much more work to be done…

  • Rob

    Mom and pop stores are becoming a rarity- But there are a few things that come close- The Ace hardware that recently opened in Burien is one of those that comes close. While they are a member of a chain, they are a smaller hardware store that employs locally. Some could argue that McLendon’s is a mom and pop store- started locally, by “Pop” Mclendon, still has a lot of family in the business. Of course, on that note one could argue even further that Nordstrom’s is a mom and pop that went big time- But still it started as a local shoe store by the Nordstrom family- Now a national retail chain. BUt I am digressing- Mom and Pop’s -they are few and far between. So it is very important to support the ones we have left.

  • I agree with you completely. ‘Course that might be because my parents are one of the local “mom and pop” stores (sort of). And my grandparents were, and my great-grandparents. My generation is actually the first that isn’t self employed. That’s part of the issue too I suppose, the ability to open a store and have it be successful.

  • Hear hear! I remember this post, Melinda, and it is even more important now that a year ago. I’m planning to review Big Box Swindle at The Blogging Bookworm this week – just trying to find the time to write a review that does justice to the book. If you haven’t read the book yet, I strongly recommend it. Imo, Big Box Swindle is to the marketplace what Omnivore’s Dilemma was to the food industry. I was already a “shop local” gal but this book brought home how we’ve traded our communities, the environment, our bank accounts, and our freedoms for cheap underwear and CDs. Great post.

  • We are nearly 100% mom and pop. We still need to go to the big box grocery for a few things. It just makes me feel good to know I’m helping someone support their family(:

  • My husband and I purchased a small mom-and-pop a few years ago. We should have been smarter- the previous owner had run it into the ground and we actually bought a corpse we were unable to revive. But if just 1/3 of the people in our town had spent just a dollar a week at our store, we could have brought that thing back to life and survived. I always start at local when I am making a decision to buy because of that experience.

  • I hear the buggy whip market is making a big comeback.

    I don’t mind shopping at Wal-Mart because they have one of the most efficient business models that allows them to offer the best selection with the lowest prices. Anything else is just an outdated way of doing business.

  • I think this is a great point, thank you for making it!

    I love the idea of supporting Mom and Pop whenever possible. I also love that we can do it on a larger scale with things like Etsy.

  • I agree in theory, but I have a problem doing this with some of our local mom and pops where the service is subpar. I still shop at these stores but sometimes leave feeling that my money wasn’t well spent because the employees are rude or dismissive. We own a local small business, so know how important it is to keep dollars local, but I sure wish all mom and pops were customer oriented like they should be. We do also have some great local businesses that are very customer service oriented and I feel great all-around about purchasing from those stores.

  • monica

    The Mom-n-Pops are being driven out of the market by the box stores. As soon as they run enough of the family stores out of business–they can charge whatever they want.

    I like to go to a store that the staff is behind a counter where they are giving customers individual attention. If you have a question about where something is moved to–you go to that counter and they can tell you right where it is. The local feed store is where I will be buying a great many more things for our pets this year–because they have a better price. I have not been in to Walmart in 2 years–I can never find anything, they never have on hand what I saw in the ad, a “price drop” is 30 cents off (not much help when the price is overinflated anyway).

    I keep waiting for the prices to start falling–and I find the best prices at the local feed store–TSC is my new favorite store. I found a wide range of food, dishes, bowls, collars and other items for my cats when I went in–Stuff that Walmart has never carried.

    Rambling now, but I will definitely use my local suppliers over a boxstore and save money at the same time.

  • I love that you reposted this and Heather’s comment about how much money stays in the community when we shop locally. It’s generally the small businesses that support the local soccer team, little league etc. Our local businesses even decorate downtown for Valentines, Halloween, Christmas. I feel fortunate that we even have a local downtown to support to begin with and the creativity and place they create is worth more than a couple dollars more I may spend on a specific item somewhere else. I appreciate having a choice to shop some place other than a big box retailer.

  • Brian (UWF)

    I find it disheartening that so many people fail to see what the retail gaint, Walmart is doing. While everybody is reporting losses, they’re reporting profits. This recession is playing right into their hands. Walmart buys as much as 70% of it’s goods abroad which cost American jobs and tax revenues that would have been collected had they bought American. I experienced the Walmart effect first hand when I interviewed with Charbroil grills in Columbus, Ga. They told me that they had a standing order for 100,000 grills per year with Walmart. They also told me that Walmart wanted a 5% break in the price they paid the prior year and on top of that they wanted the assembly time to be less than twenty minutes. The volume that Walmart bought was a large part of their business, so they had to comply. Needless to say, I didn’t get the job and soon after that day Charbroil announced that they had been purchased by an overseas company. This same story is playing out all over America every year.

    Today, if you look on the back of a Charbroil grill you’ll see those three dreaded word,”Made in China”. Many jobs have been lost because of low prices “Always”. Why can’t people see that they’re selling out America by shopping at Walmart? I know it’s tough to find stores that don’t buy foreign product, thanks to Walmart for setting the precedence, but we must try. If the interest is there, local markets can survive and gain in popularity and the re-investment in America can begin.

  • The Walmart saga actually gets far worse… They push producers to lower costs which often means companies feel pressured to sacrifice quality. From what I understand, that’s what happened to Horizon Organic (and why I won’t buy their products). Walmart pushed them to cheapen things up and they now have a reputation for feed lotting.

    My hubby told me about an article he read where Walmart was pushing a lawnmower company to lower prices. They refused to lower the price because they would have to lower the quality of the product and had a reputation to uphold. Walmart, of course, doesn’t care because if it breaks, you’re gonna chuck it and go back to Walmart to buy another cheap mower.

    Of course, then there’s the Walmart issue with how they treat their workers and if anyone has watched “The Story of Stuff” you can’t escape the knowledge that Walmart is the epitome of much of what is wrong with consumption today – cheap and disposable.

  • We will almost always keep our business in the local community and pay a little more – any walmart savings will be spent driving there (we are a good 30 -45 min away). The only way to keep from making that drive is to help keep local businesses open.

  • Heather, thank you for providing those great #s! And for the great points in your second comment too. : )

    Rob, I think of Ace hardware stores as local, because they are all individually franchised. It counts I’d say.

    Deb G, I agree – the market is much more saturated with large stores. My grandfather was forced out by a mall even back then.

    GB, Big Box Swindle is going on my list!

    Michelle, truly impressive!

    Willa, Sorry it didn’t work out for you.

    RI, Going to have to respectfully disagree with you there. To me the “best selection” by its very nature requires social, economic, and environmental sustainability – all three of which Walmart is severely lacking.

    Willo, You’re welcome. : )

    Lisa, I agree completely – people are people whether local or not, and some people just aren’t good business people. It’s just a general solution, but sometimes there is no perfect solution.

    monica & Katrina, Exactly! Value is more than just the price on the tag.

    Brian, great personal example – thank you for sharing that. “…but we must try. If the interest is there, local markets can survive and gain in popularity and the re-investment in America can begin.” I agree wholeheartedly.

    Annette, Awesome.

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