Why do corner stores even exist?
February 6, 2010 3:39 PM   Subscribe

Why do corner stores even exist?

I (still) see many corner stores in the area (most of them seem to be run by immigrants FYI). Given all the disadvantages of running a corner store:

Higher prices: Bigger stores have better prices due to their volume.
Shop lifters: Eating away at the low margins.
Robbery: Why risk your life?
This one gets me the most. I read a study a while ago, states the average wage of a corner store employee is less than $1 an hour.

So why even bother? there are many many better jobs out there, you don't have to risk your life on a robbery, and when you do get robbed who knows how many days pay you lost. As for the money, min wage pays more. So I don't understand, what is the reason for keeping these store open?
posted by abbat to Shopping (73 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Because they get enough business to make it worth it. They must, or there wouldn't be any corner stores. There are three corner stores within a five-minute walk of my house, and they've all been there for years.
posted by rtha at 3:43 PM on February 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

Convenience, Convenience, Convenience.

In my neighborhood in Philly, I have two corner stores across the street from me. The closest grocery is 10 blocks or so. It's pretty clear which one I go to when I need butter or milk or something like that.

I'd imagine in big cities, many people are in this situation and frequent corner stores. They probably have more business than you might imagine...
posted by chicago2penn at 3:45 PM on February 6, 2010 [13 favorites]

My stepdad runs a corner store and turns a nice profit -- way more than $1/hour. I think it makes a big difference whether you own your building or lease.

He also really enjoys his business -- basically, he's making his living by mostly sitting around socializing with his neighbors all day, with the occasional interruption to ring up transactions or deal with business stuff like ordering inventory, accounting, etc.
posted by Jacqueline at 3:47 PM on February 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

You can't think of any pro's?

Last minute/emergency purchases

Later hours than regular stores

You have to pass one on your way to and from home.

Corner stores will do things like sell you one Band-Aid out of a box, or sell you a stamp, precluding the need for you to buy items in bulk.

Variety. The corner store on my corner sells more kinds of beer than the grocery store does. It sells more kinds of candy. It sells rolling papers. It's informal, there is rarely a line. They make your coffee FOR you, just the way you like it.

I could go on all day.
posted by hermitosis at 3:48 PM on February 6, 2010 [7 favorites]

when you do get robbed who knows how many days pay you lost.

This is why businesses only keep a certain amount in the register or on the premises at any given time.
posted by hermitosis at 3:49 PM on February 6, 2010

I'm going to guess that the study you read a while ago didn't actually say that, or that it was incorrect, because it's in pretty clear contradiction to observable reality. If corner store owners really made $1 per hour, and we assume they work an insane 100 hour week, and never take a vacation, they would make around $5000, or $14 per day. I don't think you can raise a family on that, so I'd guess your assumptions are faulty.

I'd imagine corner stores are slightly more attractive for immigrants because they can employ their families and work together, creating a small cocoon of familiarity. But that's just speculation.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 3:52 PM on February 6, 2010 [4 favorites]

A dollar an hour? You really believe that? Come on.

Last place I lived, we had a "corner store" in the building. I miss that convenience. You want a loaf of bread, go downstairs. Milk, go downstairs. Beer! Wine! Ice cream! Where was I . . .

The prices weren't even much above what you'd pay at the grocery store down the street. Even if they were, I likely would have paid it for the ease.
posted by meadowlark lime at 3:54 PM on February 6, 2010

It's the pedestrial market. Who wants to get in their car to get a measly carton of milk? My corner store is three doors down and open past midnight. I love it, and am more than willing to pay a premium.
posted by Popular Ethics at 3:55 PM on February 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Shop lifters: Eating away at the low margins.

Do you think more shoplifting happens in a tiny corner store, or in a massive grocery store with 20 aisles?
posted by hermitosis at 3:55 PM on February 6, 2010 [5 favorites]

I read something recently about small shops in the nineteenth century. There were apparently huge numbers of them - often extremely small and with low stocks. They were a sign of poverty - people buying very small amounts of things, shopkeepers unable to afford much stock. They were often in people's houses so they didn't need much capital. Obviously not all of that applies now, but shops in very deprived areas might not need much capital even now - low rents and rates. Also, again, poverty means people may be unable to travel far, so there is local demand.

As for "there are many many better jobs out there" I'm not sure what unemployment's like where you are. There will always be some people who struggle to find "better jobs," or want to work in a corner shop (near where they live, perhaps a family business). You talk about what employees are paid, but also about "running a corner store" - I guess the motivations of employees and employers will be different.

The other point it may be worth making - you say corner shops are mostly run by "immigrants". There are areas where I live where there are corner shops run by people from ethnic minorities which particularly cater to the food needs of particular ethnic minorities - again there will be a local demand for this.
posted by paduasoy at 3:57 PM on February 6, 2010

Convenience, Convenience, Convenience.

No kidding! I've also noticed that a lot of the bodegas sell lottery tickets- not sure how profitable those are, but I imagine you get a decent cut and it's not something that takes up a lot of space or requires refrigeration.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 3:57 PM on February 6, 2010

I gather from the tone of your question that you own a motor vehicle of some kind.
posted by wreckingball at 3:57 PM on February 6, 2010 [82 favorites]

There was a 24 hour corner store right by the subway stop closest to my old apartment. It was run by a family of three... I never saw anyone else at the register. They also had a couple of stock boys. I would guess (conservatively) that I spent at least $2,500 there a year, primarily because of the convenience. And there was always a line at the check out. I'm sure they were doing fine.

Now I live in a ritzier neighborhood, and I really miss having a good corner store nearby.
posted by kimdog at 3:59 PM on February 6, 2010

there are many many better jobs out there
There probably aren't, for the people who own corner stores. This is one of a number of classic immigrant jobs, like driving a cab, that allows people with not-great language skills and little capital to achieve a modicum of independence and reward for initiative. It's dangerous, the pay isn't great, and being successful involves working long hours (and often relying on unpaid family labor), but in return you get to be your own boss and enjoy the fruits of your own labor. And the people who own stores like this are generally not people who have a lot of other good options. It seems worth the trade-off.

As for why they're successful, they're convenient, and they're often located in neighborhoods where there isn't good access to full-service grocery stores. If it's 45 minutes on the bus to get to a grocery store, most people are going to do their big shopping once a week and go to the convenience store if they realize they're about to run out of a single ingredient.
posted by craichead at 4:00 PM on February 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

No kidding! I've also noticed that a lot of the bodegas sell lottery tickets- not sure how profitable those are, but I imagine you get a decent cut and it's not something that takes up a lot of space or requires refrigeration.

My understanding is that stores don't make any money on lottery tickets, but they're good for drawing people into the store. So you go in to buy a lottery ticket and leave with, say, a candy bar and that beer you remembered you needed to take with you to the party too.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 4:01 PM on February 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

1) Cigarettes
2) Beer
3) Lottery tickets
posted by biochemist at 4:06 PM on February 6, 2010

Corner stores exist because the areas that you find them in have people who will pay extra money for the convenience of using a corner store.
posted by 23skidoo at 4:21 PM on February 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Is this a joke question? The corner store is the center of the neighborhood. It's where you buy the newspaper in the morning, and some beer in the evening. If friends come by unexpectedly, you excuse yourself for a minute and go buy a bottle of wine. If you run out of milk on Sunday morning, you go get a quart in your pajamas.

At my corner store, the guys greet me by name, they ask after us when we've been away, they accept UPS packages when we are at work, and they trade ten dollar bills for rolls of quarters when it is laundry time. Plus, they let the neighborhood artists paint pieces on the walls outside the store.

And you ask why they exist. Please. I gladly pay "extra" for all this.
posted by gyusan at 4:27 PM on February 6, 2010 [25 favorites]

I am just lazy enough that if I only want one or two things I will go to a corner store rather than a big supermarket because I don't have to walk as far inside the store. I can't believe I am admitting that.
posted by amro at 4:28 PM on February 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

I support the people in my neighborhood and the opportunity cost is more valuable than the few cents I *might* save at Safeway - or not. Your question also raises corporate vs. independent grocery stores, no?

gyusan: even more to the point!
posted by kcm at 4:32 PM on February 6, 2010

gyusan: rather, this one.
posted by kcm at 4:33 PM on February 6, 2010

I own a car, but I like the convenience of being able to walk to go get ice or snacks or whatever after I've been drinking. And the ice is better, too.

The grocery store here is always mad busy, I have to park far from the door, etc etc. It would take 25 minutes to get something from there, vs 5 minutes at the corner store. We have a Walgreens on my side of the street, and an A&R store on the opposite corner run by a Vietnamese man and his family. That one has a quite impressive collection of alcohol, and they do a brisk business.
posted by marble at 4:40 PM on February 6, 2010

Oh, also:

There's lots of things for which the corner store is the only place I know of that sells the stuff. Like Blue Raspberry Four Loko, or chicharonnes with big chunks of fat, or Mexican eggnog-flavored freezie pop things, or those newspapers that show the mugshots of people who've been arrested in the last week.
posted by 23skidoo at 4:50 PM on February 6, 2010

1) Cigarettes
2) Beer
3) Lottery tickets

4) Men's magazines

For a lot of immigrants, this is the American Dream. Start your own business, work hard, and maybe you can be successful, and your children can do better than you did.

And by the standards of most of the places these people come from, they are successful. They're making incomes and have a standard of living which would be considered "filthy rich" back home.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:56 PM on February 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

Bodegas in the Bronx. In a lot of places, for a lot of people, the corner store is the only place they can go to buy food without a major trip.
posted by Decimask at 4:59 PM on February 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

They're neighborhood centers, places to chit chat, convenient for the one or two things you might need that don't warrant a full trip to the supermarket for, and as others have noted, they often carry items that reflect the neighborhood that you can't necessarily easily find elsewhere.

Do you think more shoplifting happens in a tiny corner store, or in a massive grocery store with 20 aisles?

The corner stores don't have magnetized security things on either side of the door.
posted by cmgonzalez at 5:15 PM on February 6, 2010

I've worked at several corner stores (I'm assuming you mean convenience stores), and I agree with everything the above posters have said.

As for there are many many better jobs out there yeah... I don't think so. When no one is hiring you take what you can get and be glad you're getting paid. That said, the turnover rate in these stores was amazing in the city I lived in - two of them were always hiring because the pay didn't match the long, hard hours the employees put in.

The risk of robbery isn't really that bad, depending on the neighborhood. Only one of the stores I worked in was in a bad neighborhood, and the management took precautions against robbery. Trust me, minimum wage (which is more than a dollar an hour BTW), or the slightly higher wage of night manager wasn't worth getting shot over. If someone came into my store and wanted to rob it, they would have been more than welcome to the cash in the drawer. Luckily, I was never robbed, though one of the stores was broken into while closed.

But the reason they exist is as mentioned above - it's way easier to walk to the corner and buy beer or milk than to get into the car and drive. Esp if that's all someone wants to get.
posted by patheral at 5:17 PM on February 6, 2010

If I understood correctly OP was not asking why corner store customers like corner stores but why corner store owners like corner stores.
posted by y6t5r4e3w2q1 at 5:28 PM on February 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

For eight years, I lived in Vancouver, and didn't own a car so anywhere I went I either walked or took the bus. The neighborhoods I lived in all had corner stores and I used them frequently, because for little purchases, it's more convenient than schlepping out to the grocery store. I never realized how much I liked corner stores though until I moved 4 years ago to a suburban area of Ottawa. There is no corner store here. The closest thing we have is at least a 5 minute drive away and if you're gonna drive five minutes you might as well drive 2 more minutes to the grocery store. It sucks. I really miss having a store right down the street where I could just walk and get a coke or a magazine or something. That's why corner stores exist.
posted by wabbittwax at 5:29 PM on February 6, 2010

Corner store owners like corner stores because customers like them. Or need them, whichever.
posted by rtha at 5:37 PM on February 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

They exist because most bigger stores require a "trip", and it is much nicer to just take a 30 second walk to the store than a ten minute car ride (if you are lucky) to a big grocery store. Plus everything Gyusan said. I can't imagine living somewhere without corner stores without thinking of what a pain it must be.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:40 PM on February 6, 2010

I live in a city (Austin) that's pretty car-oriented. I suspect most convenience-store trips here are made by car. The nearest convenience store to me is only 2 blocks from a huge grocery store, but it still does an OK business.

In their case, I think the reason is booze. They have a pretty good selection of wine and beer—better than the grocery store, in fact—and the in-and-out time is much, much lower. It really is more convenient. Having observed other convenience stores, I think beer/wine makes up a pretty high proportion of their total sales, and is pretty profitable. Station yourself at the door of a convenience store around the time work lets out on a hot day, and you'll see sixpacks leaving the store in droves. Smokes also. And soft drinks—not sure, but I get the impression those are also pretty profitable.

Lottery tickets, though? It may vary somewhat from state to state, but when I had a counter-clerk job in Illinois, the profit on lottery tickets was derisory. They were viewed mostly as a way of getting people in the store, not as a profit center of their own.
posted by adamrice at 5:51 PM on February 6, 2010

Related to many other answers but on the issue of cost, larger shopping centers cater to a driving clientele. If you don't have a car, shopping is a major hassle. In my day I humped many's the bag of groceries via bicycle, bus and foot. There's a reason many supermarkets have a few taxi spots marked out in their parking lots. So corner stores pick up a lot of incidental shopping from poor people and the much smaller set of people who aren't poor but still don't drive. For the same group they also fill the role gas station/convenience stores play for drivers: a place to pick up smokes, junk food, a newspaper, a 40 oz., or whatever your habit is going to and from work.

I don't buy that the $1 an hour figure has any basis or meaning. I can think of more than one individuals in my community who are substantial figures in business who started out with a corner store, expanded to more than one, and went on from their.

I think you're over-stating the threat and the cost of robbery. It is a danger of any cash-centric retail business but the contents of the till at any particular moment isn't going to break a business.

A lot of these businesses are owned by individuals and families. This is real autonomy as a lot of people define it.
posted by nanojath at 6:16 PM on February 6, 2010

As for the customers: they're people without cars! When I didn't have a car in my car-oriented city, getting food was an enormous pain in the butt (an hour on the bus each way), so I went to the bodega a block from my building all the time. And judging by the huge number of bodegas -- sometimes two right next to each other selling exactly the same items -- lots of other people were doing the same.

As for the shopkeepers: they're mostly immigrants! If you're a smart dude or lady who doesn't speak much English, you're going to have trouble getting a decent regular job or getting a bank loan to start a larger business. So you get set up with a distribution company that's run by people from you're community too, you rent a hole in the wall, and try selling stuff. The opportunity cost is lower for them than it is for people like us who can go off and get a $30,000-a-year job just by sneezing right.
posted by miyabo at 6:23 PM on February 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

corner stores are the godsend of any big city where not everyone owns a car or can afford a taxi to go the several blocks to several miles to get to the nearest grocery store.

run out of milk? corner store.
forgot to pack lunch and don't want to spend $15 on lunch? corner store for some ramen or a $3 deli sammich.
11pm and want a nom? corner store a block away.
buying a soda on your way home from work and don't have the cash on you like you thought you did? you're a regular customer and the owner knows you'll even up tomorrow so you get to go home with your soda.

7-11s and those massive "convenience store/gas stations" are the corner stores of the suburbs and all the cities where there is no public transit and everything is car-centric because of sprawl.

and please cite your $1/hour source because that's just redonk. the corner stores here are owned/managed/run/cashiered/stocked/cleaned by the same people so there are only a couple of employees total. with the huge amount of work they put in to sell us candy bars and bottled water, i don't think they're doing it for a $18 a day.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 6:43 PM on February 6, 2010

The corner store in my last neighborhood sold everything you need, and it's a two-minute walk from the door, which is the perfect amount of time to call my mom and check in. "Gotta go mom, about to walk in the store."

Beer (from Dogfish Head to Old English)
Rolling Papers
Gas (for the weed eater)
Band Aids

And the dude knew my name. And he was always in a good mood. And couldn't care less that I was in my pajamas.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 6:46 PM on February 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

-because I forgot that we don't have any eggs and don't want to get in the car.
-to give my kids a place to spend their allowance on the way home from school. They had little adventures and money spending lessons there that they would never learn from me.
-giant rainbow pops taste better from a corner store
posted by SLC Mom at 6:48 PM on February 6, 2010

This is almost certainly a different demographic than the OP had in mind, but I've been in corner stores in well-heeled neighborhoods that had incredibly luxe offerings. Huge wine selections, including many over $40/bottle, and some much higher than that. Yuppie foods of every stripe, lots of trendy "foodie" options. Poor people aren't the only ones who like to run out for a few things.
posted by Sublimity at 7:04 PM on February 6, 2010

My "old" corner store, when I lived about six blocks from where I do now, used to be a normal corner store: about-to-go-out-of-date milk; beer; cigs; chips; diapers; cat food. Like that. Then that side of the intersection started to get hipsterized, and the corner store decided to partake of the demographic.

Now they carry - in addition to beer & cigs and whatnot - really expensive packages of organic cookies, and they offer specials at lunchtime like wild pacific salmon banh mi with organic greens for $8.25 from the deli counter.

A good corner store owner will know all his regulars, and will do stuff like let you buy the toilet paper even though you're a buck short, because you'll be back the next day to pay it back. That's a great thing.
posted by rtha at 7:30 PM on February 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

My "corner store" has the cheapest beer prices, ntm the largest selection. It's what they do and they do it the best of any stores available - including the Wal* stores. It doesn't hurt that they know me by name & sincerely thank me for my business every time I stop by to make a purchase.
posted by torquemaniac at 7:32 PM on February 6, 2010

I think the convenience factor can't be overstated. There are two corner stores that are each a block away from where I live. There's a supermarket that is two blocks away. Unless I'm doing a serious food-shopping trip, I'm gonna hit one of those corner stores every time. What's more, the amount of time it takes to get in and out of a corner store is also a lot shorter. While NYC supermarkets are much smaller than your average suburban store, you still have to wander the aisles looking for your item, and potentially wait on a long line behind people with lots of items to check out. For a single drink or Hostess cupcake, that seems a little ridonc to me.

Oh, and delis in NYC tend to have a much broader array of refrigerated drinks. Not sure I can get a cold Gatorade at the supermarket.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 7:35 PM on February 6, 2010

A lot of Toronto convenience stores had a great selection of inexpensive house plants and, in season, exterior plants and garden supplies. (The main thing I miss about living in Ottawa, so few places to buy plants.)

I think that maybe you are asking the question because two of the big draws for convenience stores, imo, were newspapers and cigarettes and both have declining sales in recent years. Maybe the stores seem less relevant than they did ten years ago? I liked the convenience stores because they were independent places that where you could support a small business owner and because they were individual and kind of fun to go to: my favourite was the combination concenvience store - sports card shop, but one had a row of busts of Elvis, another had stained glass done by the owner. There was the surly owner, the friendly owner, the busy place, the quiet place, the dusty bare shelf place, or the place (which was rare for Toronto) that sold the New York Times.
posted by philfromhavelock at 7:36 PM on February 6, 2010

They. Make. Money.

"I (still) see many corner stores in the area"

The word "still" in parenthesis suggests you believe corner stores are becoming a thing of the past. As in, "I saw them years ago, and they're STILL there." Corner stores obviously turn a profit. That's why people own them. Corner stores sell convenience items to locals. That's why people shop at them.

"(most of them seem to be run by immigrants FYI)."

Is the use of the word immigrant intended as an insult? Are you of Native American heritage? No? Then guess how your people arrived here. They were immigrants (FYI).
posted by 2oh1 at 7:44 PM on February 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

2oh1, I'm native. I was born here.

"Immigrant" means "a person born elsewhere who came here".
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:55 PM on February 6, 2010

"Immigrant" means "a person born elsewhere who came here".

Jeez, you make it seem like this is "the land of opportunity" or something.
posted by torquemaniac at 7:59 PM on February 6, 2010

Here is the source article:
posted by abbat at 8:36 PM on February 6, 2010

Is there anyway to edit the original question so I can include the link up there instead of down here?
posted by abbat at 8:39 PM on February 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

The corner stores don't have magnetized security things on either side of the door.

Those are mostly for electronics and other higher-priced items. A six-pack of Budweiser or a box of Corn Flakes doesn't generally have a tag that will set one of those off.
posted by Target Practice at 9:15 PM on February 6, 2010

Abbat, I'm pretty sure the math is off in that article.
posted by seventyfour at 9:19 PM on February 6, 2010

You mean this part?

The classic mom-and-pop independent corner store in Ontario brings in from $30,000 to $50,000 a year.

For two people working 12-hour days seven days a week, that's from 49 to 81 cents an hour between them.

Their math, as they show it, is wrong. Let's say the average corner store brings in 40,000. If two people own it that's 20,000 each, annually. Now divide that by 365 days per year. That's 54.79. We'll round that down to 54, and divide by 12 hours. That comes to 4.50 an hour, which, though meagre, is a far cry from 49 cents.

Now, maybe there's an issue with what the article means by "bring in". If they mean net income and not gross, they should be showing the expenses as part of that assertion quoted above because otherwise it makes absolutely no sense.

In any case, it's a poorly written article with no citations or attribution, and that makes it a very poor source of information.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:21 PM on February 6, 2010 [10 favorites]

Well, the article does say that her store is struggling. It also says she's only been running it for six months, and that the store's been through several owners recently. Perhaps that particular corner is marginal as far as supporting a corner store. That doesn't mean that corner stores as a class aren't a viable enterprise.
posted by hattifattener at 9:24 PM on February 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

In Ontario (at least where I live), milk is 1-2 dollars cheaper per gallon at the corner store than at any major grocer. And at many corner stores, meat is also much cheaper for the same quality.

These two things alone make it worth it. And the fact that it's a three minute trip rather than a 30 minute trip (on average).
posted by astrochimp at 10:56 PM on February 6, 2010

To quote the Simpsons: "Porno, porno, porno!"
posted by domographer at 11:37 PM on February 6, 2010

If you have a car, corner stores probably seem irrelevant. If you walk, bike, or take transit, though, corner stores turn your city commute into a quick multitasking shopping trip for basics like milk, soap, toilet paper, flowers, or cat food. I am a frequent shopper at the handful of corner stores in my area- I really prefer them to the big chain grocery store. I like the staff much more, and their small size, small selection, and quick turnover at the register make them much faster and more convenient.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 12:39 AM on February 7, 2010

"In Ontario (at least where I live), milk is 1-2 dollars cheaper per gallon at the corner store than at any major grocer."

Yeah, my stepdad sells milk at cost as a way to bring people into the store (people who then impulse shop for a bunch of other crap that he charges a much higher profit margin on).
posted by Jacqueline at 1:17 AM on February 7, 2010

In the Philippines they're called sari sari stores. They are often literally a knocked out window in someone's house with basic supplies inside and a refrigerator. If the neighborhood and location is right they'll often evolve into selling some basic home cooked food and beer, and then they'll add chairs and videoke. You can sit around at night eating snacks, singing songs, and getting drunk.

They're great when you don't have a refrigerator at home. You can walk down the street and get a cold soda. They also sell cell phone pre-paid load in very small denominations. They are everywhere, and the farther you get outside of the city the more important they are. Over Christmas I was 3 hours from the closest mall by van and you got your food from the fresh market or the sari sari store.

When I lived in San Francisco before there were a couple of corner stores I regularly visited and it was nice. A great place to pick up the basics of life and have a short chat with someone you know. One of them held my packages for me while I was at work and made great sandwiches. It was comfortable and lent itself to a lifestyle of deciding what I wanted right then, and not preplanning a week of purchases at the supermarket.

They're a piece of the community we've given up with car culture and big block stores. They may also be something we're losing as a side effect of greater wealth--buying for the week or month instead of the day.
posted by joelr at 5:09 AM on February 7, 2010

In older suburbs in Australia there is/was a corner store within a 5min walk. Usually they were a storefront grafted onto a building that served as the family home. These are in decline as more and more people shop by car (although you can usually park out the front) at the supermarket.
While these have always been family concerns (we have 7-11 etc. but I am talking about corner stores, not convenience store) and I think these days the typical worker is a woman/mother providing childcare while she tends the counter.
Why? Even if she earned $1 an hour (which is absurdly low) the ability to bring in some extra cash while looking after the kids is a bonus.
posted by bystander at 5:11 AM on February 7, 2010

I promise I don't think she's the messiah, but seriously, think about picking up a copy of Jane Jacobs' The Death and Life of Great American Cities. She explains why corner stores are brilliant and necessary (along with a lot of other aspects of cities).
posted by kalimac at 6:07 AM on February 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Why do corner stores even exist?"

Because they're awesome.
posted by Grlnxtdr at 7:54 AM on February 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

"Why do corner stores even exist?"

Because they are wonderful. Plus, I would rather cut my arm off than shop at Walmart on a regular basis.
posted by R. Mutt at 8:31 AM on February 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

The city of Detroit currently does not have any major chain grocery stores operating within the city limits. Farmer Jack and a few others have tried, but had to close due to high insurance rates, huge losses due to shoplifting (both by customers and employees) and also a lack of an employment pool - there was an article in the Detroit Free Press just a year or so ago lamenting the problem of potential employers in Detroit requiring drug screening and/or no felony record. Such a policy automatically disqualified a substantial percentage of the folks looking for work. So, anyway, corner stores (usually owned and staffed by immigrants) are the only choice for Detroiters who want to buy milk, diapers, sandwich makings, etc, without commuting to the suburbs.
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:03 AM on February 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Do you have the article? I would like to read it.
posted by abbat at 11:36 AM on February 7, 2010

Do you have the article? I would like to read it.

My bad, it was the Detroit News, not the Freep. Interesting info in the sidebar as well as the main article.
posted by Oriole Adams at 1:16 PM on February 7, 2010

Lottery isn't a big moneymaker for corner stores. In Maryland a store gets three cents per dollar spent at a lottery machine. So, it adds up over time but it's not tons of dough.
posted by josher71 at 2:42 PM on February 7, 2010

Cornershops aren't just for big cities, either. I moved from Seattle to a rural county in Washington state, and the corner store is alive and well here. It's usually slightly larger than the urban variety, but otherwise the same.

If I only need 2-3 things, I will definitely go to the corner store, which is in the nearest town 6 minutes from my home. Otherwise if I want to go to a "real" grocery store, it's 20 minutes away in the next town over.
posted by ErikaB at 7:02 PM on February 7, 2010

This has an air of the urban legendary quote attributed to Pauline Kael, "How could Nixon have won? Nobody I know voted for him." Seriously. The stores exist, therefore they must have some utility that is not obvious to you personally.

It is very true that bigger stores are potent competitors. This is why almost any residential/urban neighborhood will have many vacant corner storefronts. Even the larger modern grocery stores of a generation ago are being supplanted by even larger stores today. At the same time, you see mega-pharmacy/convenience chains like Walgreens and CVS supplanting the role once played by the smaller car-accessible grocery. (On the other hand, like the corner stores, their prices tend to be higher, as they are essentially charging you a higher price for convenience.) The end result is that the tiniest of stores can no longer survive. This does not mean they all disappear overnight. Ten years from now, their numbers will be still fewer, but I will bet many remain.

This "average wage" figure you are using is probably somebody's estimate or anecdote about what a shop owner earns after expenses and their own labor are accounted for. No, it is not a route to immediate riches. It is, however, a business with equity and that is for many significantly better than being a wage slave. Immigrants are probably often self-selected from populations that do not have massive factory employment and are as a result much more entrepreneurial to begin with. This is changing as, say, India moves to more of a service economy, but will remain true for many immigrants nonetheless.
posted by dhartung at 10:46 PM on February 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Some of the items they sell are high margin, like soft drinks. That surely mitigates some of the theft on other low margin items.
posted by haveanicesummer at 10:07 AM on February 8, 2010

Lottery isn't a big moneymaker for corner stores. In Maryland a store gets three cents per dollar spent at a lottery machine. So, it adds up over time but it's not tons of dough.

3% margin with no overhead? I bet that's better than what they do on a lot of food items...
posted by jckll at 11:03 AM on February 8, 2010

It's about 1.5km to the nearest supermarket, and two blocks to the nearest corner store. I don't drive. I'd rather spend an extra dollar or two and spend 10 minutes on a quick trip to get a couple of random things then a 45-minute excursion involving crowds and queues and so forth. At the corner shop it's grab it, pay and go. Sometimes someone will be ahead of me but better one than five or ten.

And besides I prefer to keep my cash local whenever possible; all the chains here (except New Seasons, I think) are out of state.
posted by geckoinpdx at 11:56 AM on February 8, 2010

How do people do business with margins like 3 cents on the dollar? Do the owners watch every penny like a hawk?
posted by abbat at 12:56 PM on February 8, 2010

I live in Toronto in the Annex and oftentimes I will go to the corner store (Bloor Superfresh) even though the large grocery (Metro) is a block closer. If I only need a few things like some vegetables, fruit, milk etc. the corner store is much more convenient - it's smaller, less crowded, and there's virtually no line. Plus I'm pretty sure they have a better snack selection than Metro does.
posted by pravit at 3:34 PM on February 8, 2010

How do people do business with margins like 3 cents on the dollar?

This is an accounting issue. "Margin" has a precise definition: profit/revenue. But this definition breaks down in the case of a small business like a corner store.

If you're a big business, there's a clear distinction between profits and wages. Wages go to the staff for performing specific tasks, while profit goes to the investors in exchange for investing their capital. If the business does poorly, the staff still get paid, but the investors might not.

If you're a small business, the investors and the employees may be the same people. So if you're the owner, sweating 12 hours a day to make your store run...you get some of the money from your wage and some of it from profit. Even if the profit part is very small, you still get the wage part.

If you can't get a regular job (perhaps due to discrimination), it may make sense to start your own business, even if that business has a 0% margin. Even if the business doesn't make money, it's still paying you wages that you couldn't get elsewhere.
posted by miyabo at 8:28 AM on February 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

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