Sunday, March 9, 2008

What Goes Around Comes Around - The Grocery Chains that Wiped Out Mom & Pop Businesses Are Now Crying Foul

I don't remember if I've blogged on this topic before, but it's been on my mind since I first started blogging.

Back when I started the Ontario Empoblog in 2003, we were in the midst of all of the grocery strike brouhaha in southern California, in which the United Food and Commercial Workers Union was pitted against several southern California grocery chains.

During that period, there was a lot of talk about the fact that many of the local chains (Albertsons, Ralphs, Stater Brothers, and Vons) were unionized, while Wal Mart was not. This not only led to a wage disparity, but also to some clear enmity from the UFCW folks toward Wal-Mart. For example, here's some of what Cory Briggs and the Stop Wal Mart Ontario folks were saying about the evils of Wal-Mart:

It will draw additional traffic, noise and trash into our neighborhood.

The Mom and Pop businesses do not need the "made in China" competition.

A 24-hour Super Center will act as a magnet to attract a dangerous criminal element into our neighborhood, especially from midnight until daybreak, seven days a week.

We, the voters and property owners, don't need 1,400 additional cars and trucks clogging the streets of our community every hour.

And, as I've noted before, Briggs is not only active in Ontario, but he can often be found lobbying against "Target and Wal-Mart stores with large grocery sections."

Hmm...when has Cory Briggs ever taken on a grocery store with UFCW workers? Don't recall that he has.

Ah, but there's a reason, UFCW workers will say. The big-box stores come in and wipe out all of the other businesses, and that's bad.

You see, the Vons and Albertsons and Ralphs and Staters have been around since the beginning.


Today's supermarket offers everything from fresh mangoes to muffin tins, from carnations to wedding cakes. Its configuration is based on people's demands; one-stop shopping for the time-starved consumer.

But the supermarket phenomenon has caused its share of casualties, including the neighborhood grocery stores where pantry staples were just a short bike ride away and you called the grocer by his first name. In retrospect, the independent store's decline seemed inevitable as society grew more mobile, fickle and deal-conscious, and less loyal to neighborhood businesses.

"The fittest is going to survive," says Roger Larson, second-generation owner of Larson's SuperValu in West Fargo. "I'm a small-town person at heart, and I hate to see that, but it's a matter of economics. The fact is you need volume to survive."

And what were these businesses that were wiped out by the establishments at which the United Food and Work - never mind! Here's more:

By the 1860s, the specialty store had emerged, producing bakeries, butcher shops, fruit and vegetable dealers and grocery outlets, according to the Journal of Food Products Marketing. When the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Co., known as A&P today, opened in 1859, it stocked only spices, tea and coffee.

Early grocery outlets were light years away from today's bright, sign-filled marketing havens. They were drab dwellings, where food was sold from bulk containers or piled high on shelves behind the clerk's counter. Groceries, meat and dairy products weren't sold together until after World War I, when the first "combination" stores opened....

At its zenith, Piggly Wiggly had 3,000 stores nationwide....

Plenty of other ambitious grocery chains also joined the fray, including Kroger, Safeway and A&P. Because the chains bought directly from the manufacturers, they could offer cheaper prices; consequently, they began edging out independently owned competitors.

The independents fought back. A rash of anti-chain store legislation ensued, culminating in 1936 with the passage of the Robinson-Patman Act, which mandated federal regulation of wholesale pricing and distribution.

So if you're an anti Wal-Mart agitator defending the existing Vons (Safeway) and Ralphs (Kroger) chains, perhaps you want to take a closer look at how those chains decimated the true "Mom & Pop" businesses early in the 20th century.

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