NEWS

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August 23, 2006

Yglesias on mom and pops

Prominent liberal blogger Matt Ygeslias had an interesting essay up yesterday about why people should think twice before throwing their support behind the "mom and pops" that are so threatened by Wal-Mart and other big retailers:

Mom and pop may be admirable, hard-working, decent people, but their store probably sucks. This combination of friendly, neighborhood feel and fundamental suckiness was nicely encapsulated last time I tried to visit my local mom-and-pop outlet to buy some milk. The guy behind the counter (as per Young’s somewhat off-base stereotype, a non-Arab Muslim) helpfully warned me not to -- it had all gone bad.Nice guys, crappy store. It was the same dynamic in my old neighborhood, the first I lived in when I moved to D.C. The proprietors of the local shop, Koreans, had various nuggets of helpful advice about the neighborhood to offer a newcomer with time for a chat -- advice including, “you don’t want to eat those sandwiches.”There’s a reason, after all, that mom and pop are so perpetually under threat of being driven out of business by large retail chains -- mom and pop sell sub-standard goods for somewhat premium prices. Not because they’re bad people, but because they’re stuck with an intrinsically difficult business model. Lacking substantial economies of scale, mom and pop can’t beat the big boys on price. So they take advantage of convenience. They are, metaphorically speaking, everywhere -- their stores dot a city’s landscape like oases in the urban retail desert. And if you don’t own a car, sooner or later you’ll find yourself in need of something or other and lacking the time or energy to make it to a far-off supermarket. You’ll find yourself overpaying for fairly crappy wares. Not, again, because mom and pop hate you -- it’s just the only business model that works for them. [Emphasis added]
Anyone who has lived in Hyde Park can confirm this suspicion, nearly every corner store is terrible (think Quick Snack on 55th). On top of that, a Wal-Mart in Chicago would likely put out of business all the businesses everyone hates in Hyde Park like the Co-Op or provide goods to people that aren’t offered anything but fast food right now (which has terrible consequences).Ultimately Yglesias argues that wage laws should be applied across the board, not just to big-box retailers. I agree with Yglesias to the point that across the board wage laws are better than these big-box only laws, but no wage laws would be better than both.Regardless, this demonization of big-box retailers is probably just a test balloon by progressives to see how far they can push wage laws in general. I'm sure that the ultimate goal would be to do as Yglesias wants, which is to hike up the minimum wage for everyone across the board. Hopefully we won't see that happening though.