Before corporate convenience stores, the local General Store was where people went to get whatever they needed for the house, and maybe a bit of socializing too. In many ‘developed’ countries, these lovely shops seem to have disappeared. Run out of business by corporate dominance and changing consumer habits. If you are fortunate enough to still have them where you live, you should cherish them, and support them by shopping there. Once they’re gone, they’re gone forever.
In Taiwan, corporate convenience stores are everywhere, it’s a massive industry, unlike almost anywhere else in the world. And they do offer excellent services. 7-11 and Family Mart in Taiwan are considered a necessity. However, old general stores still exist here in many neighbourhoods. They’ve held on to a small piece of market share. Only a few crumbs of the gigantic convenience store pie, but it’s often enough to support their families. It helps that most of these shops are owned already, and the families usually live upstairs.
Although these lovely old shops can’t provide all the services and amenities of the giant modern chains, they can offer things that corporates can not. They have a vested interest in the community, its citizens, and the economy. They offer highly interactive and personalized services that large corporations cannot replicate. They have personality and charm. This translates to loyalty from customers in the area, especially older ones.
Most of these places have scales. They offer common household staples in bulk: eggs, sugar, flour, dried mushrooms, tofu skin, rice, floss, salt, peanuts, etc. They have just about everything you need.
We sent our young son on his first shopping mission alone to the local general store, although we were spying from down the street. We hope that’s a memory he has for many years. Grandma and grandpa sorted him out and he came back with everything on the list. Proudly prancing down the street, about half of the eggs made it back in one piece.
We visited several of these old shops around Taiwan. Grandkids playing, generations of families working together, people running tabs, aunties and grandmas stopping by for a little local gossip or political chat... I notice a feeling of nostalgia when I visit with my wife. Like when you spot that old school candy from your childhood. Each store we went to was at least 60 years old, and often much older. Most of these shops are 2nd and 3rd generation small businesses. You probably won’t find any new general stores.
Mrs. Zhang is a 3rd generation owner, her shop is 90 years old, and located in a quiet little village in Taiping, Taichung, Taiwan. Her two children help out occasionally on weekends, but are not interested in taking over the shop when mom and dad retire. A reality that saddens mom, and a decision that the kids may one day regret.
So slow down, and saunter down to the local general store, enjoy the moment, have a chat while you pick up your household essentials. Owners of these shops are families that live in your community and probably have for generations. Small businesses make our communities colorful. My general rule is, if I can buy it at a general store, I do.
Below~ Mrs. Zhang's 90 year old general store in Taiping, Taichung, Taiwan.