Mom-and-pop marts defy global crunch
I can no longer shop happily
I came in here for that special offer
A guaranteed personality - The Clash, “Lost in the Supermarket,” 1979
Back in the day, Joe Strummer and the rest of the English punk band The Clash bemoaned the commercialized world. Today in Korea, mass consumerism is such that it’s become almost impossible to find a simple supermarket to get lost in: Much larger discount stores have emerged as the dominant players in the retail scene, pushing mom-and-pop stores on street corners out of business.
As recently as 10 years ago, every little town had its signature supermarket. Sure, they looked rundown from the outside and were messy and muddled inside. But they were the glue that bound the small communities that they served. A bulk order of cabbages arriving on a late fall day, for instance, signaled it was time for the town to start preparing kimchi.
These days, though, discount stores have wheedled their way into these small towns, offering 24/7 shopping that smaller, independent stores find hard to challenge.
So what’s the future for good ol’ supermarkets, family businesses that have been thriving in the same locales for decades? We investigated and found several stores where the paint’s coming off the walls and the heating’s broken down but attract regulars who still do their shopping in these older shops even after they have moved away from the area.
Discount places may offer bulk goods at competitive prices, but customers are undeterred and relish the family atmosphere of the genuine family mart. We tried to find out what it is about these markets that keep customers coming back.