[FOUNTAIN]Filling a hole with honestyWhat if a store had no owners and no employees? Would it go out of business or be more successful? What if people were to choose goods and pay according to their will?
In 1962, Paul Feldman started a business that would provide some answers to these questions. Every morning, he would deliver bagels and a cash basket to a company’s lounge in Washington and return later to collect the leftovers and the money left during lunch time. It was an unattended stand that believed in honesty. Surprisingly, the payment rate was 90 percent. Several years later, Feldman was delivering 8,400 bagels to 140 companies a week, earning as much as he used to get from his previous job.
Feldman’s honor-system is a tabloid edition of society. Feldman realized while recording the number of bagels left daily and the money taken that small companies were much more honest than large companies. The payment rate of a company with 100 or less workers was 3-5 percent higher than that of large companies. It is the same principle that the crime rate is higher in cities and lower in rural areas.
A Feldman-style shop has opened in Korea. It is the “Shop of Conscience” in Sinchon, Jangseong-gun, in South Jeolla Province. This shop is open 24 hours a day “unattended.” Not only is there no owner or employees in this shop but there are also no thieves or dishonest people. Since it opened in May 2005, there has not been a week when the money taken was short by more than 1,000 won. The residents help their neighbors in need with the profits.
Gumeong Gagae, or corner shops, get their name from the days after the Korean War. There were so many thieves, people had to sell and buy things through a hole. Gumeong means hole. To Jeong Geun-pyo, a fairy tale writer, a gumeong gagae was a place that sold “plenty in the midst of poverty.” It was a resting place in life, a general store that had almost everything and also a town’s gathering place. In his autobiographical essay “Gumeong Gagae” he descriptively writes of all these things.
It was large discount stores and convenience stores that changed the neighborhood where small shops used to be. Early this year, The Times of Britain predicted that 2,000 small shops would shut down yearly due to large discount stores and in 15 years they would totally disappear.
Ko Jung-hee, the late poet, wrote, “Everything that disappears leaves a space behind.” A space will remain after the small shops disappear. In this year, I hope conscience and honesty fill up this space. Not the “poverty in the midst of plenty” as with large discount stores.
by Yi Jung-jae
The writer is a deputy business news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.