According to history website Groceteria.com, the modern American grocery market was born in the mid-1800s, when the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company opened small stores that featured “dry goods”—canned food and other nonperishables. Butchers and produce vendors remained separate until the 1920s, when grocers began featuring a small selection of meat and produce. It wasn’t until the ’30s that small grocery stores started consolidating into supermarkets (then a newfangled term), a trend that peaked in the 1950s and ’60s, when building giant temples to consumerism just seemed like the right thing to do.
No longer. According to the New York Times, retailers are looking toward small-scale stores once again. Last November Grinder posted that British retail giant Tesco was launching a chain of corner stores in the U.S. called Fresh & Easy. Since then, 72 of the 10,000-square-foot stores (traditional grocery stores average around 50,000 square feet) have opened and have reportedly been such a success that other food chains are following suit. Wal-Mart is opening several Marketside stores in Nevada and Southern California, Safeway is experimenting with smaller stores in SoCal, and Giant Eagle has launched Express stores that are one-sixth the size of the regular stores.
Instead of offering tens of different brands of, say, ketchup, these stores focus on one or two. They also offer more prepared meals. Basically, the approach seems to mimic the Trader Joe’s model.
In the New York Times comment section, people seem to think the shrinkage is a good idea. Anthony Weishar of Fairview Park, Ohio, writes, “Giant Eagle has morphed into the ‘giant’ part of its name. Product placement is a huge issue in their complexes. People needing staples like milk have to walk a quarter mile to the farthest point in from the door.”
And JB from NC avows, “Here’s my ideal food store: small, locally owned, within walking distance or within walking distance of public transportation, fully-stocked shelves, limited variety but good quality basic items at a fair price, clean and welcoming, and a courteous human who takes my money when I leave. You can keep the chain stores, the Walmarts, the miles of asphalt, the trendy gourmet stuff, and the (yuck) fifteen varieties of macaroni and artificial cheese product.”