A couple of days ago, Wal-Mart noted some significant contraction in sales for the month of April, as did Target. The sales slump was most pronounced in their stores open a year or more. Both cited bad weather during the month, but the heavy weather, in my opinion, is just beginning for the so-called low cost, high volume retailers.
Several things come to mind and may mark a significant shift in both patterns of consumption but also demography. Indirectly, my mother brought this to my attention the other day. My parents have moved from the farmhouse they have occupied for over 30 years into a new home in the small town near by. Their house, an existing home they substantially remodeled near the centre of town, is tremendous for them, with everything within walking distance- groceries, druggist, church. Mother remarked how, in her life, things have come full circle. Growing up, she lived in Berkeley, California, and walked everywhere for everything. Now, after nearly 60 years of being forced to drive to shop, she has returned to a traditional style of life- a pedestrian one and patronizing local shops.
Urban living, no driving, and no gasoline consumption. Does anyone not have to drive to Wal-Mart, or Costco, or Target? Are there any of these stores on the bus line? And what would be the point if they were? These stores are set up to sell mass quantities of goods that a body couldn’t take home on public transportation anyway.
If anything, what we’ve seen is the reemergence of the neighborhood business district, where you can walk, pick up a few things, and return home. And, most significantly, leave the car at home, too. Keith and I rarely take our car out for anything. Admittedly, the public transportation in San Francisco and London are pretty good, but, even so, we notice the growth in popularity of the corner shop, something nearly extinct not so very long ago. Sainsbury’s and Tesco, the two largest grocery chains in England, cottoned on to this fact a few years ago. Now, near our flat in Notting Hill, we have both a Sainsbury’s and a Tesco, downsized for the local shopping streets. And, offering what people buy these days- fresh fruit and vegetables and good wine take up more shelf space than paper diapers and frozen pizza.
Overall, I think this bodes well generally for inner city commercial activity, where corner shops and local shopping streets have, until recently, had shop fronts boarded up more often over the last five decades than they’ve been open for business. Certainly in San Francisco, as so-called empty nesters sell their homes in the suburbs for more conveniently sized accommodation in town, it’s doubtful they’ll troop back to the outskirts just to patronize Wal-Mart.