The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

6 March 2005

Not much in store

Last month I noted, somewhat belatedly, the lack of supermarkets on the city's northeast side, and it occurred to me afterwards that there wasn't an abundance of chain stores of any sort serving this largely-black quadrant: there's a CVS which used to be an Eckerd's (though, surprisingly, not a Walgreen's dogging its heels), one of Yum! Brands' KFC-plus-something-else stores, and a couple of Mickey D's around the edges, but chain retail is otherwise conspicuous by its absence. I wondered if this was an anomaly, but, says Karen DeCoster, it's worse in Detroit:

[U]ntil the Dennis Archer administration took over the mayor's office in 1994, there was hardly a single chain store anywhere that was willing to locate inside the city's borders. This was a phenomenon only known to Detroit. Most people whom I talk to, from other areas, cannot comprehend that the city of Detroit did not have mega-stores, shopping malls, retail giants, chain grocery stores, chain video stores, etc. within its city limits. This seems like a fairy tale to them. Phoenix, Chicago, Indianapolis, Philadelphia, Dallas, etc. — they have all had the benefit of economies of scale in their cities.

Detroit? Hardly a single K-Mart, Kroger, Meijer's, Blockbusters, or otherwise, was located in the city borders. Starbucks? Not a chance. The only businessmen left were the Arabs — many are Chaldeans — who opened up independent grocers, video stores, dollar stores, makeshift retailing outfits, etc. As one who had to shop at these places as a financially struggling 19-year-old, I can attest to the fact that these stores were absolutely awful: high prices, rotten food, poor selection, nothing fresh, and they were all dirty as all heck. It left city consumers with having to purchase their daily needs from these brave-but-less-than-efficient businesses, or make trips into the suburbs to find a place to shop. (Poor Detroit residents have consistently fought against these stores, what with their unkempt ways and high prices, but these people were the only ones, for the most part, willing to dare risk any kind of entrepreneurship in the city of Detroit.)

In some circles it is de rigueur to bash chain retail for its negative effects on local stores, an attitude which overlooks the possibility that some of those local stores might actually deserve it. And residents of northeast Oklahoma City who actually want to take advantage of the chains have had to venture into other parts of the city, or head east into the 'burbs. As close as Wal-Mart is likely to get is NE 23rd and Douglas Boulevard, in the north end of Midwest City, coming next year. Still, that's only six miles from MLK; imagine how far you'd have to drive — or ride the bus — to get out of Detroit.

Posted at 2:30 AM to City Scene


Very interesting. That would have described where I grew up over 15 years ago-- Harrah. The same could be said for rural areas in Oklahoma. The only chain in my town at the time was Sonic. All the stores were family stores yet nicer than those described in Detroit, but with the high prices. And I wouldn't be surprised if it is still relatively the same. I remember driving to the original Crest in Midwest City and then high-tailing it home before the food would spoil. As a teenager I was so excited when a McDonald's was finally built at N.E. 23rd and Douglas. I struggle with whether or not the "big box" is good for us. I do know that it would have been better for my single mother if her budget could have been stretched farther.

Posted by: ceres at 5:49 AM on 6 March 2005

Wal-Mart's original scheme, as I recall it, was to put up a warehouse, then to find towns of 5000 to 25,000 population that were within a day's drive of that warehouse and build stores there. Metropolitan areas didn't figure into the plan until later; neither did Sam's Club, the first of which was built in Midwest City in 1983.

And Crest by now has made it all the way to Edmond and the west side of Oklahoma City.

Posted by: CGHill at 8:43 AM on 6 March 2005

I thought this was very interesting and informative.
Not too sure how to pronounce "de riguer" though.

Posted by: claretoothloose at 12:18 PM on 6 March 2005

"day rigor" -- but with the emphasis on the GRRRR.

Posted by: McGehee at 2:58 PM on 6 March 2005

It is better in Milwaukee. We live in the integrated south edge of the north side 'hood and do much of our shopping locally.

There has long been a well established black-owned grocery chain here, which, while not up to suburban standards, is clean and price competitive. I have occasionally passed on their meat specials, but I've never seen anything actually spoiled offered for sale. Jewel's (Albertson's Midwestern chain) recently opened a store well within the boundaries; Lena's responded by leasing vans and providing customers with rides home.

There is a Wal-Mart right at the northern boundary, with a Big Lots about to open across the street, and a Walmart and now a Lowes at the western boundary.

Wendy's has just this year opened their second location in our part of da 'hood, and there are other national and local chains in the area. The major auto parts chains and Family Dollar are also making a move into the area, and K-Mart was planning to just before their collapse.

Posted by: triticale at 8:09 PM on 6 March 2005