Everything stores
January 4, 2014 3:53 PM   Subscribe

In Chicago, especially in working-class neighborhoods, there are a lot of stores that seem from the outside like they sell a bit of everything: they have displays (often garish) with pots, pans, clothing, and other odds and ends. What are these stores? Who are they for? Who runs them, who buys from them?

I pass a bunch, but in particular there's one near the Bryn Mawr red line that stands out. It has a display up front with lingerie and all manner of things, but I don't think I've ever seen anyone go in there.
posted by LSK to Grab Bag (17 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
These are discount or "dollar" stores. They are like one-of-a-kind, family-run general stores. The Family Dollar chain (where everything is obviously not just $1) riffs on this. Discount Daze on Jackson in the loop is my favorite one of these shops. Go in, you will find lots of stuff you need/want for cheap. Most cater to Latino shoppers, like the Megamall in Logan Square.
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 4:06 PM on January 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

General Stores. Junk Shops. Maybe some Bodegas would qualify.

The advantages of the urban everything store is that it is local and usually pretty cheap. The expense of or access to transportation is a big issue for people without a lot of cash, so being able walk to a place is an appeal that goes far beyond convenience.

Also if you are looking in neighborhoods that are not middle-class white folks, one of the major draws for a lot of little urban stores is that the staff and owners often speak the non-English language(s) common to that neighborhood.
posted by French Fry at 4:09 PM on January 4, 2014

Uh, this sounds kind of awful now that I think about it . . . there was a store just like this in college that we called the Indian Store because it was run by people we assumed were Indian. It didn't have a name otherwise, no sign on the outside or anything. They had a reliable stock of toiletries and basic hardware, but otherwise it was a grab bag of what they might have on any particular visit -- I got kitchenware, a rice cooker, incense and an alarm clock there. All very reasonably priced! Check it out.
posted by mibo at 4:12 PM on January 4, 2014

They have one of those in my neighbourhood. I can walk to it and I don't have to haul stuff home on the bus, nor do I have to factor the commute time or cost into my purchase of a collander, towels, bathmat or mason jar.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 4:12 PM on January 4, 2014

It's sort of like a small scale Target, except in walking distance from home, everything is way cheaper, possibly more geared toward neighborhood demographics (for instance the stores like this in my predominantly Mexican-American neighborhood all carry tortilla presses and Bimbo brand pastries), staff will definitely speak your language, etc.
posted by Sara C. at 4:14 PM on January 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

Get a cheap lease, get a business license, and some "connections" to wholesalers. You can pretty much sell anything (except licensed products, perishables, or stuff that requires a contract). These aren't just in Chicago, but EVERYWHERE.

I'm guessing you should be welcomed to big city living, though.

Uh, this sounds kind of awful now that I think about it . . . there was a store just like this in college that we called the Indian Store because it was run by people we assumed were Indian.

This is why I call wal-mart, the white store.
posted by hal_c_on at 4:17 PM on January 4, 2014 [12 favorites]

Something to keep in mind as well is that, using the neighborhood you mention as an example, ten years ago, stores like Target and Walmart had no presence near the Red Line on the north side. Before then, most of us without cars had little choice than stores like that for a quick trip to pick up non-grocery items.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 4:39 PM on January 4, 2014 [6 favorites]

Yeah, you find these stores in pretty much every city, and not just in poor or immigrant neighborhoods. There's one near me in my yuppie neighborhood in Seattle. It's great because even though it's not a poor neighborhood, lots of people don't have cars, or don't necessarily want to drive out to the suburbs to buy one thing at Target.
posted by lunasol at 4:42 PM on January 4, 2014

I had friends who ran a "Variety Store" in Queens until they sold the whole thing and moved to Florida in the nineties.

They work well in neighborhoods where most folks use public transportation. The idea is that most "high streets" or shopping centers aren't within walking distance of your apartment block, and sometimes you just don't want to get on the bus/subway and schlep down to the shopping area, so you pop down to the all purpose store to get whatever thing you need.

So milk, eggs, bread, tampons, twine, cello-tape, dish-drains, pot holders, screwdrivers, Faygo Soda, lemons, pencils, pantyhose in outrageous hues and phone cards. They may also take numbers and horse action. It depends.

In San Francisco we had, Merrills-Thousands of Things! I loved that place. Walgreens bought their spaces and have stocked...pretty much the same crap. In Manhattan in NY, Duane Reade is sort of a model of this sort of thing. (Oddly enough, also bought by Walgreens.)
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:59 PM on January 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Anecdotal data: the lingerie-fronted everything store next to the red line Bryn Mawr station is going out of business. So are at least two of the other everything stores I know of in Chicago. The answer to "who buys from Chicago's tiny everything stores" may well be that nobody buys from them anymore, or at least that Target and similar stores with more efficient product sourcing are in the process of displacing them.
posted by foursentences at 5:18 PM on January 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

I've always shopped at stores like that- whether it was a big box department store like the now-gone Zellars or a littler general store. In fact, I wouldn't even know where else to buy things. Where else do you get things? I guess there are specialty, I dunno, pot and pan stores? For fancy rich people? I'm not going to go in a place like that. And if I did, I probably wouldn't be willing to afford it. They are just mini department stores.
posted by windykites at 5:21 PM on January 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Also CVS and Walgreens sort of serve this purpose too.
posted by k8t at 9:53 PM on January 4, 2014

Variety stores, or what used to be called "dime stores" when I was a kid. Which is basically the precursor to the dollar store.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:32 PM on January 4, 2014

This is an international thing, too. I live in a fairly poorly-off bit of the UK and these shops are very common here - we call them "cheap shops." Most towns have one or two.

As in the US, the independent ones are starting to struggle and close in the face of competition from big supermarkets (which have expanded from selling food to selling everything from pots and pans to makeup to TVs). Chains of cheap shops have also expanded rapidly since the financial crisis - places like B&M and Home Bargains, which are roughly analogous to Family Dollar in the US.

My family always used them when I was growing up, but now that I'm out on my own I find that I just don't have the time in the all-too-short weekends to trawl around lots of different shops looking for what I need. I tend to order online, or get things like pans from the supermarket where it's all under one roof. Perhaps increased pressure on everyone's time is one of the things contributing to the decline of these places.
posted by winterhill at 3:14 AM on January 5, 2014

If you know what to look for, you can get great deals at "everything" stores.

I have a 5-gallon "speckled-ware" pot, which I keep steaming on the stove all winter to bring up the humidity in my steam-heated apartment. At $20, it's actually better than a $1,000 copper stockpot. It heats the water faster (or just as fast), and the amount of water in it stabilizes the temperature for cooking pasta (or lobsters).

I heat up a pint of water for tea in a super-light tin pot that I paid less than $1 for many years ago.

I got a very light plastic-headed hammer for $1 around 1970. It's perfect for tapping things lightly into place without damaging them. I do musical instrument repair and use it all the time to give things a little more push than I can with my fingers. And I have a $2 heavy rubber mallet that delivers a blow without causing damage.

It's all about asking yourself "What can I do with this just as well as with something expensive?" That and avoiding deceiving yourself by thinking "I may be bale to use that, and it's soooo cheap."
posted by KRS at 7:18 AM on January 5, 2014

CVS/Walgreens/Duane Reade serve this purpose in NYC except they are almost invariably more expensive than the mom&pop random stores for electrical goods/stationary/cleaning stuff/staples. Not only homogenizing but homogenizing AND expensive. Sigh.
posted by lalochezia at 8:48 AM on January 5, 2014

Also they're the type of places where you can occasionally find really interesting old things way back behind on shelves nobody's looked at in years.
posted by Rash at 9:57 AM on January 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

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