Once upon a time everyone bought what they needed at neighborhood stores, from the five and dime for household items to the hardware store, butcher shops, bakeries and cheese shops for daily cooking. Unique to the United States there has always been a rich variety of ethnic grocery stores.
The eventual demise of most corner shops was due to the arrival of a 500-pound gorilla: supermarkets. Throughout the 1960s most corner specialty markets closed down, unable to compete on prices and overall selection. The supermarket’s sheer volume and cost-of-scale buying power also attracted local farmers and food producers alike. But as supermarkets became larger and less localized, the prices supermarkets were willing to pay to suppliers were driven down to the point where local farmers and food providers could rarely supply to the largest stores and still turn a profit–which gave rise to agribusinesses and factory farms. Produce, poultry and meat were treated as commodities, as supermarkets battled it out in price wars. Left in the wake were dozens of family grocers who simply couldn’t compete on price and volume.
Recently there has been a resurgence of specialty shops, and especially ethnic markets. These shops don’t try to compete on prices, but instead deliver quality, freshness and product diversity. It’s an encouraging trend, because these shops often provide a better selection of fresh and unique products than supermarkets, which makes home cooking taste much better.
A secondary benefits how shop owners take pride and ownership in their neighborhood community. Most of the time it’s possible to put a name and a face in each shop. I especially like when owners put their names on their shops, “ Frank Granato’s, Tony Caputo’s, Stan’s” Every Grove Market customer knows Jim Savas and his giant sandwiches.
Customers know where the buck stops when the quality isn’t up to par, and they can provide owners with direct feedback on their inventory. This is a far cry from super-centers and big-box stores where it seems nobody takes any accountability
It’s great to see that good ideas never die. And the best markets are gems in our neighborhoods. Just as they were in the days of yore. In the following pages we profile a few of our favorites. Tell us a few of your favorite neighborhood shops around the corner, we will include them in an upcoming listings in Utah Stories’ Go Local Guide. Pick up the November issue of Utah Stories and see our story on many of the best local family markets. And find out how our current politicians are working with big developers are preventing more shops like these from flourishing. Find our current issue at Grove Market, pictured on our cover. (1906 South Main Street). Subscribe to Utah Stories to get Utah Stories in your inbox, as we publish more from this issue in the coming days.