Chains that Change?

Chain stores. Big box retailers. Corporate America. Capitalistic society.  Independently owned. Mom & Pop. Local business. Local economy. Small scale.

All businesses started small at some point. Right? And some just kept growing. Or some went too far. Yes? No?  We could debate the American economy and society all day long, as well as the pros/cons, and roots of all large businesses. (Feel free to start the debate in the comment section if you’re up for tangents. I’ve written about big boxes here and here, among other times.) Instead, let’s think in reverse.

Have you noticed any big box chains giving back to “their” communities? You can usually find a business donating money/supplies/food to a fundraising or community event. That’s normal. It’s good PR, tax write-offs and just a good thing to do. (People are genuinely good, I like to believe. And, for the record, when I mention that big boxes are evil I am referring to the system of big box retailers and the negative effects it has on the core of communities where something existed prior.) Back to the point. Big box corporations help out communities in some ways, it seems.

However, more often than not  you can find that big box retailers often try to replicate the local, independent business –  in subtle aesthetic references and connotations such as calling the food section a “market.” These companies have long ago recognized the value of small scale operations in feeling, only they wanted to create a monopoly of sorts. 

Yet, why should one business offer every service or every product? Granted, this type of consolidation goes way back. Sears & Roebuck is probably familiar to most of us, but it has happened in all generations on varying levels.

Drug stores are an example of a ubiquitous big box store; if you don’t have a CVS or Rite Aid, you probably have Walgreens or Kinney Drugs — or all four of them. Modern drug stores have wiped out local pharmacies in most towns and cities. You can even buy food in the drug store, toys, etc.  With flu season approaching, you may have heard drug stores advertising offers for flu shots, saving you a trip a doctor. Vinny brought this to my attention the other day after hearing it on the news – drug stores are attempting to be seen as “health centers.”  (Oddly enough, these “health centers” are the same drug stores selling junk food.) This is taking business away from an unexpected source – actual doctors and physicians.

Retailers snagging business from non-retail businesses? That is a new level of “Corporate America” complications. Obviously, drug stores are not going to put doctors out of business; but I would imagine that small things like flu shots add to their revenue. I don’t know the economy of the health care world enough to actually comment; but, I will say that when one business sector attempts to control too much of the market share, no good can come of it.

So, I wonder, if chains are doing more to help the community, is it just for business purposes or are they actually trying to be a part of the community. Do you know what I mean? It is sincere or is it business strategy only?

Should chains be changing? Say a drug store chain decided that it wanted to be more like a pharmacy or a health center and less like a mini superstore, would you choose that chain over another?  What if a chain decided to stop building ridiculously large, brand new stores and chose to integrate downtown. Would business practices pertaining to sales or business practices pertaining siting and location matter more to you? They are here to stay, as history indicates, so what can we do to make the economy of chains and local businesses symbiotic?

I have never liked chain drug stores, mostly because every store seems to be one of the large rectangles with giant facades along the highway. I suppose I will not like them unless the entire business policies change: location, products and services. How likely is that?

2 thoughts on “Chains that Change?

  1. Mark says:

    I´ve traveled extensively, and I am always shocked when I see places that have few big-box stores (yes, there are still places like that !). In their absence I usually feel that there is a sense of community, a sense of cohesion. Whenever I traveled to Mexico I would always get tortillas from this one stand. I loved going there, and I came to know the people who owned it.

    As for national/multi-national co´s and community, I would ask what community are you talking about ? These places get operated 000´s of miles from where people live. They don´t exist to become part of the community, they exist to make money. Ames, Iowa or Calgary, Alberta – what´s the diff ? You´ve heard of cognitive dissonance ?? Well, this is corporate dissonance. My own feeling is that every large co. should be forced to become part of the community – ie: contribute toward social housing, helping w/ local schools, etc.. If they´re going to benefit from a particular community, then they should also give back. And not in a token fashion.

    • Kaitlin says:

      Hi Mark,

      I love finding the places without big box stores, too. It proves it’s possible! However, on one of my road trips I was disheartened to find that all of the states looked the same (from a commercial/architectural POV). I remember thinking that although I was in Michigan, I could have been home on Long Island.

      I’m not talking about any community in particular; but if you ever attend a road race, for example, the race shirts always have sponsors names listed on the back and many times they include a few chain stores. I’d have to pull out some shirts to find specifics.

      You’re right – corporations should sincerely get involved in communities. It certainly would improve quality of life for many.

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