The Corner

Mom & Pop: Gougers

Andrew Young, who quit as a Wal-Mark flack, had some sharp comments about Wal-Mart’s effect on Mom and Pop stores:

In the [Los Angeles] Sentinel interview, Young was asked about whether he was concerned Wal-Mart causes smaller, mom-and-pop stores to close.

“Well, I think they should; they ran the ‘mom and pop’ stores out of my neighborhood,” the paper quoted Young as saying. “But you see, those are the people who have been overcharging us, selling us stale bread and bad meat and wilted vegetables. And they sold out and moved to Florida. I think they’ve ripped off our communities enough. First it was Jews, then it was Koreans and now it’s Arabs; very few black people own these stores.”

Me: Let me do something unusual and defend everybody concerned. I think Young has a point. Throughout Washington DC there are plenty of small grocery stores — we called them bodegas in NYC. Everyone I’ve been to in a poor black neighborhood is outrageously expensive and of really sub par quality. These places make most of their money, it seems, from booze, tobacco and lottery tickets. The money they make from gouging little old ladies who can’t drive to a supermarket seems like an after thought. A box of crackers can cost five bucks. The milk is old, the meat, well I have no idea, but I wouldn’t trust it. I’m sure there are self-described Crunchy Cons who have a romantic view of mom & pop shops, but my hunch is most of these are in largely upscale, safe neighborhoods where the comparative advantage is quality not, mere availability. 

Now, I don’t really blame the people who own these stores. They’re taking enormous economics risks in high crime neighborhoods to scratch out a living. I’m sure their insurance premiums are high and their profit margins low. Some criticize Koreans and other ethnic small businessmen for not hiring blacks from the neighborhood, but the truth is they hire mostly family because they don’t have to pay their own kids much. And the only reason they can afford to open in some of these neighborhoods is that the big outfits won’t serve such poor communities. 

As for Wal-Mart, I’ve never been an enormous fan, but I’m not a Wal-Mart basher either. I think delivering quality at a low cost is a valuable service and I think most Wal-Mart bashers have agendas I don’t like. More to the point, if Wal-Mart can come in a deliver groceries and services to poor inner city residents as efficiently as it does to suburban and rural ones, more power to ‘em. 

As for the suggestion that blacks would run these stores differently and that there’s something nefarious at work in the fact they don’t own these stores? Feh. That’s silly. If Young — no doubt a millionaire many times over — thinks that it’s so terrible that there aren’t enough black entrepreneurs willing to take on such risky endeavors, I’m sure he and some of his friends can raise the capital to remedy that. 

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