Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Personalized business, or where to buy junk food

Sometimes, I prefer to patronize local businesses in part because I feel something tending toward a "moral" obligation that I want to support locally owned businesses. For example, there is a convenience store near where I live that appears to be owned by a family who, I assume, live in the neighborhood. Right across the street, a corporate gas-station/convenience store has opened up as well. The main difference between the two is that the latter offers gasoline and can induce a greater number of customers with slightly cheaper prices and loss leaders. Whenever, on rare occasions, I wish to patronize a local convenience store, I try to use the locally owned one (I don't have a car, so gasoline is a moot point). The reason: they're always nice to me and I don't want to see them lose their business.

Now, nothing I buy there is important, and there is a grocery store nearby--in fact, there're three (3) grocery stores in walking distance--so anything I actually need I can get elsewhere. And I'm not some "hero of the local community" simply because I occasionally buy a bag of Doritos corn chips at a locally owned store. But I'm just expressing some of the thinking that enters into mind when I choose to patronize such a store.

I'm not one to jump on the anti-Walmart, anti "big box," bandwagons. I'm at the very least conflicted as to whether it really is better to have cheaper goods (produced under conditions that are harmful to the producers and the environment), at least in the short term, than very expensive goods at all. In Chicago, there are many neighborhoods that lack grocery stores and that depend on smaller retailers who, because of slim margins, must charge high mark-ups for low-quality goods.

There are various reasons alleged for this phenomenon, none of which probably tell the whole story and all of which probably have a grain of truth, and most of which are complicated enough as not to provide easy answers: the prevalence of unionization; high marginal tax rates; the legacy of de facto/de jure (it's not always easy to tell the difference sometimes) discrimination; etc. If the answer, at least in some neighborhoods (especially the "food deserts" of certain pockets of the city), is to introduce large companies that offer cheap, though still low quality, goods, and low-paying (and low quality)jobs, I'm inclined to think that's a better thing than the alternative.

I'm also not one to jump on the "all locally owned and small business is good" bandwagon. They're not, or at least not necessarily. First of all, they're not all really "locally owned" if by "locally owned" one means "owned by someone who resides in the community." I wonder how many convenience store owners in the south side actually reside in the community in which they ply their trade (I really don't know the answer, and perhaps I'd be surprised, but I assume that a significant number do not). Second, the small business owners I have known personally--with a lot of exceptions--tend to be, to put it mildly, unpleasant people, willing to exploit others at any opportunity. (Again, not all of them.) I once knew one who decried, repeatedly, illegal immigration, and yet, when he needed a few extra hands that he wanted to hire (without the inconvenience of social security taxes or other benefits) he went to the place in Denver where such folks congregate in what seemed to me like a "cheap labor meat market," and got a couple of choice workers. (To be sure, on the one occasion I was witness to this, he was nice to his worker--at least from my observation--and treated him with respect that belied his private denunciations of the perniciousness of "illegals.")

But for some reason, I don't want this family to be put out of business by the gas station across the street.

1 comment:

M. Ortgage said...

This older blog regarding the personalized business or where to buy junk foods. I like it.