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Is bigger better?

12 replies [Last post]
Claudia Segal's picture
Joined: 05/13/2009

We live in a town of about 5600 people, 35 miles north west of Washington, DC.  This town used to be the exurbs and now we are a suburb to some of the outlying areas with businesses who support the federal government.  To get to any major shopping, movie theater or restaurant (except McDonald's and a couple pizza joints) you have to drive for at least 25-30 minutes on back roads.

We have a grocery store in town, owned and operated by the same family for 4 generations.  When we first moved to town, 12 years ago, it's where we did all our shopping.  About 2 years ago, a grocery store with some renown for good produce and excellent customer service (returns receive 120% of original cost in refund) moved in about 15 minutes away on the only road that leads to town.  We started shopping there, fresh fish market, great sales and lovely produce.  Prices are slightly higher but food is of an equivalent quality.

When we run out of something urgently needed, we go to the local family owned store.  But our big weekly shopping has moved to the larger chain store.  I love our local store and would hate to see it go.  The convenience can't be beat but they haven't remodeled in 12 years.  It's a little dingy, old and sorely outdated.

Two weeks ago, we received a letter that was mailed to all the families within a 5 mile radius of the local family store.  The inevitable had happened.  With the combined effects of unemployment, hard economic times and the chain grocery opening up down the road, the family was struggling to stay open.  They asked two things of the community.  Please tell them what they need to do to win back our business and please come back and shop at their store.  If things don't turn around soon, they will be forced to close.

It's a tough decision.  Do I stick with the shop I know and need or the big guys who have the volume and the prices to survive this tough economy?  Do I turn my back on the family I know and see every where in our little community or do I shop where I get better selection?  Do you support the family owned and run business knowing that if you and your neighbors do not, it will go under or do you go where it's bright lights and big choices?  I find myself confronted with this challenge in many aspects of my daily life lately. 

What would you do?


ingamarie's picture
Joined: 05/18/2009
I shop local and to heck with

I shop local and to heck with the big stores. I believe firmly that you make the world you want to live in. And if I want small local stores, farmers markets and people who make things to be able to sell them. .. then I'd better patronize them. That said, it has to work both ways.. the smaller store has to make an effort to carry things people want to buy.

Joined: 05/29/2009
 1. As long as your local

 1. As long as your local store is not unsanitary, lack of gentrification should not be an issue.

2. That 15 minute drive for a weekly order is probably costing you more than you realize. 30 minutes driving time, gas to get there, and buying for a longer period (more chance of changes in plans that lead to food waste) consume resources.

3. Shopping twice weekly or even daily at the closer shop, and picking up their sale items regularly probably nets you the same yearly bill for food plus the convenience of a local source.

We have a locally owned, union grocery within 5 minutes on bicycle. I don't shop anywhere else unless they are out of something I really need. My shopping for meat is based on what is on sale, produce comes mostly from the garden - tonight we need something to go with kohlrabi - and shopping daily or every other day as I did in Europe practically guarantees no waste because I purchase only what I need for a short period. Just acting on a nice social invitation when you have something perishable planned for dinner weighs heavily on the grocery budget.

Meanwhile you can make suggestions to the owners that would not cost them a lot up front.


AND NEVER discount the gossip and general local information gleaned at that small local shop - that's something I haven't ever recovered coming back to the US. My Piggly Wiggly is just a bit too large for that.

Caroline's picture
Joined: 06/09/2009
I always shop locally if I

I always shop locally if I can. Its getting harder and harder to do with all the big chain stores, but if you don't support local businesses you end up with a dreadful lack of choice.

The two major supermarkets close to me are sooooo busy dictating what we should buy, I can no longer get the brands I prefer to buy. I am stuck with the generic brands these supermarkets produce and  promote.

Be grateful you do have an alternative. The owner of my local independent store has degraded it badly with out of date produce, and junk foods, so that I now have to travel to the other side of town to do my shopping if I want any choice, and to get the low fat, low salt options I use. Since my driving days are limited, I am shortly going to be stuck with using the big chains, and I am not looking forward to it.

EvaHall's picture
Joined: 04/11/2010
Here  in Norway where I live

Here  in Norway where I live we have nothing but chain stores, but of course some are more local than others. I have always done my shopping in more than one store, because they have different advantages. I buy my vegetables where they are best in quality and variety, and I buy dieries where they are cheapest, because anyway they are the same. Often the choice of store is decided by the fact that I need to buy glutenfree products, so I have to go where I find that.

So what I want to say is that it is not necessary to choose between stores, you can do your shopping both places and have the advantages of both.

Claudia Segal's picture
Joined: 05/13/2009
For me, it goes beyond the

For me, it goes beyond the choice of small, local grocer vs. large chain store.  It applies to so many situations these days.  Those shops and businesses that are struggling are the small, independent people who are doing their job because they have a passion for it. 

Another example of this:  up the road a few miles is Dancing Leaf Farm, a small, independent yarn shop with hand dyed yarns that are lovely.  I would sooner purchase yarn from Dalis at Dancing Leaf than Berrocco yarns even though, in some cases, they offer very similar yarns and Berroco is less expensive.  Dalis dyes and sells yarn because she is passionate about her work.  I don't believe Berroco cares if they lose me as a customer.

I want to work with and spend my money with someone who has a feel for what they are doing.  Not someone who is doing it because everyone is buying hand dyed yarns.  I believe those businesses/shops/internet sites who are there because they have a passion or a true interest in their work are the ones we should support.  Not the large commercial chain/business/website that is in business to make big money. 

Claudia, stepping off her soap box and getting back to work talking to potential and current Weavolution advertisers and hope they agree with sentiments expressed above and haven't spent all their marketing dollars supporting the "big girl".

Joined: 06/11/2009
 no, bigger isn't

 no, bigger isn't better--just bigger.

yes, passion or a true interest in the work done and feeling/connection for the customer is more important.



tien's picture
Joined: 05/09/2009
For me the question is

For me the question is basically about value and value-add.  I'll go with whoever offers the best value - not necessarily monetary.  Some things that have value to me are:

  • expertise - can they help me with a given subject if I need it?
  • details - can they tell me essential details about the product? (fair trade, organic, etc.?)
  • quality of products that they sell
  • creativity/originality/uniqueness - is this something I can buy anywhere? or is it something that is special, and can only be gotten this particular place?
  • convenience
  • relationship/friendliness - I prefer shopping with someone who knows who I am and greets me in a friendly fashion when I come in

All these factor into my decision about where to buy.  For example, when buying expensive commodities in bulk, I usually go for the lowest price.  I therefore order my 10 lbs of undyed silk from India because I can get it at 1/3 the cost of purchasing from an American vendor, and there really isn't much value-add for me in purchasing from a small vendor, since what I want is a standard, uniform, mass-produced product.  I don't have a local weaving shop, and I'm not willing to "donate" 700 dollars on an item that would otherwise cost $300 to keep an American online shop in business.  (To be honest, I don't think I'd do it for a local shop, either - the cost differential is just too great.)  In this particular case, I order from a vendor who will give me the best price and make no apologies for it; there's no additional value to me from purchasing elsewhere.

On the other hand, when purchasing something unique like indie-dyed yarn (or fiber), I prefer to work with people who know me and who are creative, producing unique products.  I like building a relationship with the people who supply me things, the cost differential really isn't that high, and I like supporting artists.

Somewhere in between are food, etc. purchases.  I buy most of my food from the farmer's markets for the same reasons I like indie-dyed yarn (when I don't dye my own) - I know where it's coming from, the vendor can tell me what variety it is and educate me on the product, and I've developed relationships with the vendors over the years.  But for things like toilet paper etc., I go with whatever is most convenient for me.  In this case it's the supermarket four blocks away.

I really don't think there is a simple answer to the question - it really boils down to a question of what value you're getting for the price you're paying, and that doesn't produce an instant formula every time, for all things.


Caroline's picture
Joined: 06/09/2009
Value for money plays its

Value for money plays its part, but there comes a point, and we have reached that point in australia, where the big International companies have cornered the market and are systematically putting other small businesses out of business, and going into almost every line of stock they can think of.

Woolworths sells fuel, hardware, spectacles, owns hotels and bottle shops and is the biggest owner of Poker/slot machines in the country, got knocked back on running a pharmacy, and has who knows what in the pipeline for the future! We do not have the population to sustain a large choice of supermarkets, and  Woolworths dictates to growers and suppliers what products THEY need to produce, and quickly drop anyone who does not conform to standard, such as apples all of a certain size and shape. They can also boycott brands and this can put a supplier or grower out of business if they lose their contract. They ship product interstate, and keep fresh produce in cold storage for so long we no longer have fresh fruit and vegetables despite their motto, and generally eat last years left-overs.

I can see no argument for supporting a rapacious company like that, beyond sheer convenience, and unfortunately there are enough people who are time poor that they will keep these monopolies going long after the smaller supermarkets and grocery stores have vanished from the shopping scene.

I prefer to exercise my choice for as long as I can do it.

Aunt Janet's picture
Joined: 06/09/2009
In our small town the grocery

In our small town the grocery store was burned to the ground ten years or so ago.  The owners sold to a chain.  Interestingly the chain management actually listen to the customers.  They also employed the same people who worked in the family owned store.  This store has the biggest organic produce in any of these chain stores.  So, somehow they have managed to keep the local feel of the store.  I don't think it would have been the same if the small town store and the chain had to share territory.

One thing the old store did for us when we asked was to put their meat on paper trays instead of styrofoam.  The new store is back to styrofoam.  I guess it is time for a little protest.   They listened about the organic produce, maybe they will listen about the styrofoam.

We have another option here which is pretty cool.  Mountain People Warehouse.  Mountain People is a direct sales outfit.  They have trucks that travel all over with the produce ordered from catalogues.  People form coops.  Some have a leader who acts as a store, who picks up the produce then meets the other members to distribute the produce.  Prices are good and they carry good quality groceries. 

Farmers market is where the best produce is, second only to my own garden.  But Mountain People offers good prices on bulk produce like avocados, lemons, etc.  We don't grow either of those this far north.

Important soap box, Claudia.


Michael White's picture
Joined: 06/26/2009
Yes, the "big" super stores

Yes, the "big" super stores are cheaper. But when all the little stores are gone the "big" guys can then run up the price. For the record I shop at a small local grocery store and a national chain store as well. I do not shop at the "super" store. Someday the Chinese will stop sending their large container ships here and that super store will have nothing to sell. There was a law passed a number of years ago that required stores to list the country of origin on all goods. Only the part dealing with food have gone into effect. I use to buy and sell shoes from a large mail order company out of WI. They used to list some shoes as imported. Now that don't even do that. I stopped buying from them when they shipped me a pair of dress boots made in China. 

I will get off "my" soap box.



esmesmom's picture
Joined: 10/03/2009
As craftspeople we tend to

As craftspeople we tend to value the individual's efforts and accomplishments.  If your loom is all straight, without any whack marks or scratches, and all your heddles are uniformly straight, wow.  I've seen those.  They never have any work on them.   If there are dents and dings, but you have made something you are proud of, something maybe for someone you love, that's special even if the great big world may not know.  Little stores may not have 27 acres of high-tech lighting, the nicest floor in town, or misters wetting down the exotic produce, but they do have people who care about what they are doing.

Keep shopping locally at the little place would be my suggestion.