Is Bigger Better?

Shoppers Hell

Americans can’t seem to leave well enough alone.  If a little of something is GOOD, more will be GREAT.  Bigger is better. Take grocery stores.  I grew up in mostly rural, small towns.  Grocery’s were family-owned, often an outgrowth of a local dairy, butcher shop or farmer’s market. Farmers rise early.  In the country, milk gets to market fresh, as does produce.  Meat is fresh, often cut to order.  I later moved to the city.  At that time, owners often lived above their stores.

I remember Muccio’s fresh produce.   “Famiglia Muccio” lived upstairs, right next to an American Oil Station where I pumped gas.   Everything they sold was fresh and priced fairly.  Papa Muccio had a couple beautiful grown daughters, which didn’t hurt business a bit.  Muccio eventually expanded into wholesale, where their success continued.  Bigger was better.

Back then, grocers had one, maybe two registers.  Lines weren’t long.  The bagger was often the owner or from his family.  Weekly shopping took several stops but it didn’t take all day.  Still, that wasn’t good enough.  Bigger is better.

We needed supermarkets, where there’s more of each item and generally (but not always) a broader selection.  Some were known for their meat or produce, in which case you may not HAVE to shop elsewhere but chances are you did anyway.  Supermarkets offered more “specials”.   Some handed out and accepted coupons.   Others dispensed stamps redeemable for all sorts of household items. We went wherever the giveaways were most generous…sometimes, even if their beef was a trifle tough or their bread a little stale. Supermarkets had from 4 to 8 registers.   At any time, half of them were idle.  Still, we didn’t wait long in line.

We wanted more– sundries, home hardware, school supplies, seasonal items, wine and liquor, car care products, cosmetics and seasonal items, snow shovels, ice melt, charcoal and starter.

Predictably, supermarkets became too small.  We needed more–dozens of registers…even if most were rarely open and we waited in line even longer.  We wanted delis, fresh coffee, sample stations, in-store pharmacies, child care centers, check cashing services, custom bakeries… carpet cleaning machine and video rentals.  Behold, the Mega-market”.

Soon the “Mega-market” topped the “food” chain, but not for long.  The Mega-market bred with the Department Store, introducing  its bouncing bastard offspring, the “Super Center”–a place we can bank, finance a home, buy tickets to events, get eyeglasses, go to the dentist, drop off dry cleaning, get shoes repaired, buy clothes, furniture, service our cars, purchase  electronics and most anything the American family needs (except, health insurance).

Sure, it takes longer to shop there.  It takes longer to navigate the immense store, longer to

check out (which we often do unassisted,) longer to locate our parked cars.  Even so, this is likely where most of us do the brunt of our weekly shopping.

These massive monuments to unchecked consumerism are as amazing as they are grotesque.  The mere space they occupy is staggering.  The utilities, the parking, the maintenance, the security, virtually every aspect of  operating them is swollen relative to their seemingly steroid-induced size.  Prices can be much cheaper but service–when you can get any– is typically poor.

Manufacturers want as direct a path to consumers as possible. Forget repairs.  Forget replacement parts.  Forget returns; forget warranty service.  If it breaks, the store doesn’t want it.  There are no on-site repair centers.

Among your documentation is a convoluted return/repair/replacement procedure designed to befuddle.  If an item is pricey enough, you’ll bother; if not, you’ll throw it out and get a new one. Better luck next time.  Perhaps you’ll try a different manufacturer.   The only things bigger than our “Super Centers” are our landfills.

Is bigger truly better?  I suggest it’s not. And bigger may even lead to our demise.  I’ll save “why?” for a later post.

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