Small shops should sell their strengths

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Small shops should sell their strengths

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More than 30 years ago, I visited a supermarket in the United States for the first time. The giant warehouse was filled with all sorts of household products and food items. And the store was open 24 hours.

Back then, eggs and sugar were scarce in Korea. I was used to the street vendors in traditional markets.

At the time, business was brisk at supermarkets and mom-and-pop shops alike in America. The small shops often sold small portions, albeit at higher prices, and were able to survive alongside the giant supermarkets.

Koreans envied the large supermarkets and in November 1993 E-Mart opened its first store in Chang-dong, northern Seoul. Lotte Mart and Homeplus soon followed, and supermarket chains today operate all over the city.

However, shop owners at traditional markets are suffering serious damage to their businesses.

To help small businesses, local governments have proposed that large supermarkets and chain stores be required to close on Sunday.

The debate has just begun.

The proposal is intended to protect small shops, but young parents who take their children to the big supermarkets to shop for groceries and necessities often avail themselves of other services and facilities offered by the chains. Will these families go to small local markets if supermarkets close on Sunday?

Because traditional markets are typically in outdoor spaces, they can be hot in the summer and freezing in winter. They can require several stops at different shops.

Parking space is small or nonexistent, making it difficult for families to buy in bulk. And walking or taking public transportation can be a real hassle when you’re loaded down with shopping bags.

Moreover, when it comes to prices, small shops will never be able to compete with the big boys. Large supermarkets often buy a farmer’s entire crop, while local markets have to purchase a cart-load at a time.

In my old neighborhood, a local produce shop and small deli do a good business. Most of their customers are small families or working professionals. If they bought in bulk, they would end up throwing away the leftovers.

The stores offer delivery on any purchase. They provide pickled cabbage so customers can make kimchi more easily. They sell cleaned and prepared vegetables.

Customized service and convenience. That could be the secret to success in a world where bigger may not always be better.

*The author is a guest columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By By Eom Eul-soon
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