May 23, 2004, 11:42 AM
Post #13 of 25
Interesting responses to my remarks about box stores and the way they change communities. I was specifically lamenting the way huge supermarkets have changed the way people live in rural France where the local food has traditionally been of a quality that North Americans can not even imagine but I also indicated that the box store phenomenon would prove both positive and negative as has been the case wherever this has occurred. For example, as I stated earlier here, WalMart has forced its Mexican competition such as Gigante and Soriana to change their business practices to improve operational efficiencies so they can compete with the WalMart juggernaut - at least for now. ( Readers may be unaware of the various enterprises owned and run by WalMart in Mexico under other names or the extraordinary power of its franchise in this country ).
I am pleased to note that many small and medium sized towns in the United States are beginning to see the possible long-term negative impact of these retail outlets duplicating, in many ways, the Sears Roebuck phenomenon of the past century. More and more towns are balking at becoming Plain Vanilla America. More power to them.
Then, a couple of posters, in attempting to counter my argument, actually shore up my point.
One cites Trader Joe's as an example of how a "small" store can compete effectively with the box sores in selling quality wine and other "gourmet" food items. In actuality, Trader Joe's is a huge chain of discount retail outlets located all over California and elsewhere which stresses "good value" in its wine inventories. Trader Joe's uses its enormous volume buying power to purchase and sell decent quality wines at cut rate prices and has found its niche by buying, in bulk, wines that are underpriced by the producers and close outs. Because it buys and sells in such large volume, it is able to pay bottom dollar for its inventories. Anyone who has shopped at Trader Joe's knows that you can find good, but not great, quality wine there but that the selection is very limited to those items meeting its strick criteria. The small wine store with a variety of wines ranging from pedestrian to supurb quality cannot and does no compete with Trader Joe's. Rather, Trader Joe's, with its massive inventories of mediocre frozen and processed merchandise, decent and drinkable but not exceptional wines, and marginal store locations is a separate phenomenon altogether. It is certainly not an example of how small stores can compete with large stores by any stretch of the imagination.
Now, as to comments regarding the Western Addition section of San Francisco, historical events there also shore up my point that the phenomenon of the big box store moving into a marginal neighborhood signals far reaching change in that neighborhood. The city of San Francisco is quite small geographically and hemmed in by water on three sides. As living in the city gained popularity, the centrally located but dirt poor black ghetto that was known as the Fillmore/Western Addition became a popular place for white gentrification. The movement was spearheaded by the affluent gay community spreading out from the Castro and Noe Valley neighborhoods and white flight back from the suburbs to the central city which had become overcrowded and expensive. Whites from other parts of the city or the suburbs could buy run down but magnificent victorians in the Western Addition for a song because it was, in those days, a dangerous ghetto, and they could remodel them into splendid residences relatively cheaply . As this dramatic demographic shift took place, the poor blacks who had bought the rotten meats and other merchandise sold by small stores in the neighborhood, were forced out and replaced by middle class and affluent whites and asians. The Super Safeway cited was built on a huge vacant lot left by the bulldozers of the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency in the 1960s and 1970s that displaced large numbers of poor blacks so the area would be more enticing to the whites and asians they were trying to attract. That huge Safeway was not built to serve the poor black community being forced from their homes any more that WalMart moved to Mexico to improve the lives of the peasantry here. I should know. I was a banker in San Francisco in those days and personally helped finance a number of redelopment projects in the Western Addition.
One day, historians will look at redevelopment schemes such as that that occurred in the Western Addition as callous and short sighted. But, by God, they have their Super Safeway now.
What is my point? As I said before, the big box stores are a mixed bag. They follow the money rather than drag it along with them. Anybody reading this thread who thinks Bubba is against box stores has misread my message. I buy almost all of my meat at Costco because of its excellent quality. I shop regularly in Guadalajara not only at the box stores but at Gran Plaza, Plaza Mexico, Plaza Terra Nova, Liverpool, Bodega, etc. I also enjoy shopping the small tiendas in traditional ares of town where one must go from shop to shop seeking stuff for the project of the day.
As a gringo who first visited Mexico in the early 1970s, I applaud the incredible progress here from the internet to the satellite dishes to the box stores to the beer on ice in the Oxxo stores that make my road trips more relaxing. I also applaud the incredible toll roads empty of the 80% of Mexicans who can't afford them and the great luxury hotels and condos making beach life a pleasure. I'm pleased that the relatively small Mexican middle class can join me at the WalMart but I am not blind to my environment. Gringo paternalism, indeed!
(This post was edited by Bubba on May 23, 2004, 12:56 PM)