As you know if you’ve read previous entries, I work for Family Dollar, a large corporation. I’ve talked about many of our regular customers. It strikes me that, in the past, that’s the kind of interaction that used to occurr at the mom and pop corner stores. The neighborhood grocery store, the local hardware store, the rural country store. All endangered species. I’m not here to condemn or judge this change. Just making observations. Many chain stores that have locations every couple miles have their regulars: Wawa (which I love), Turkey Hill, 7-11, the dollar stores, CVS, Rite-Aid, Walgreens, grocery stores, etc.
What makes them personal is the people working there and the customers themselves. That hasn’t changed. The only difference is, we’re making money for someone else while making less ourselves. But still, it makes the day go by to see those familiar faces every day. It’s one of my favorite parts of the job, to get to know people, to learn their stories, to brighten their day, and occasionly, be enlightened by them.
Take my store manager, please. Just kidding. She’s great. She has flaws like everyone, but she’s really funny, and upbeat, generous and personable. She’s tough with her employees, but also fun to work with. People often ask about her when I’m there at a time when she usually is. She’ll put in a few cents of her own money if someone is a little short. (Usually because they forget about the tax. duh) They’ll often bring it in the next day. One customer commented how most stores now will do transactions to the penny. Like if your total is $9.01 and you don’t have the penny, they’ll give you all the change. I was thinking, well you have to because that happens all day long. You’d be at least a dollar short everyday if you didn’t do that. A small business can do that and no one is going to reprimand them for being a little short, or over.
Anyway, about the store manager, I don’t think she would want her own business. She’s happy where she is. Though struggling financially, like most people these days.
So, the corporate corner store has replaced the mom and pop store, but it’s not all bad. We make it more bearable by giving personal service and talking to people and getting to know them. We just can’t give them a break on price or anything, even though we understand.
I wonder what cultural effect the transformation has had, from country to corporate corner stores.
While the chains have saturated the market pretty exhaustively, it’s not the same as having a niche market on every block. Maybe there’s more of these in the bigger cities. I don’t know. I have noticed in my neighborhood on the Southside of Bethlehem, PA that there seems to be more local Hispanic markets. The area is heavily Hispanic. It’s an interesting trend. Is it because many of them move here from big cities where they have more of that? or from the countries they hail from where they’re used to the small business familiarity.
One small business that survives is Cantelmi’s Hardware on 4th St. on the Southside. I patronize them as much as I can. It’s closer than Lowe’s and the service is great. The help really knows their stuff. And there isn’t that big a difference in price on many things. Those big chain stores have a “loss-leader” item that gets you to go there, and then you buy other things that aren’t that good a deal or aren’t of good quality.
Coffee shops is another type of business where there are still locally owned small businesses. Another great 4th St. biz is Deja Brew, which also happens to be the headquarters for the Southside Film Festival, held every June. I haven’t been there in a while. Maybe I’ll do lunch there one day next week.
Til next time…