The pros and cons of Big Box stores

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Stan's Stance

Stanley Oliver

While visiting Labrador West recently to do some shopping and check out the Trans-Labrador Highway, which by the way was in extremely good condition, I, along with other residents of Happy Valley-Goose Bay, often take advantage on a regular basis of the prices offered by the large retail stores.

However, before I forget, I would strongly encourage people to take the trip, the scenery, the wildlife and the pure enjoyment of the Big Land is and continues to be an amazing and beautiful site. We were able to observe literally hundreds of white partridges, as well as Canada Geese, porcupines, otters and an immense variety of small birds.

Now back to my topic for today. My mind often goes back to running down Palliser Crescent with my weekly allowance to drop into one of the friendliest convenient stores in our community. I am referring to Blake's Store, ran by Mr. Ralph Blake and family.

I am sure a lot of the readers can relate and understand my fond memories as most communities and towns have similar stores. Although, I appreciate the lower prices of the larger box stores, I do miss the personal customer service of those small stores. In my view, Big Box stores don't always offer the same personal service, but are having a real impact on the viability of the small stores.

Whether people call them Mom and Pop stores, the shop down the lane, the local corner store or simply the gas station, there is something about convenient stores that draws customers to use their services.

Years ago, many of these places were the local gathering hole for people (often the community store was also the post office) to discuss local politics and social community issues.

A convenient store is defined as a small store that stocks a wide range of everyday items such as groceries, snack foods, candy, toiletries, soft drinks (pop), tobacco products, newspapers and sometimes even beer.

Generally speaking, convenient stores carry very few perishable items, since it is not economically easy to do so. The possibility of rotating items frequently and the lower volume sales make it prohibitive to do so. As such, products with longer shelf life are the rule of thumb, unless a specific product is aimed at attracting customers on a chance they will purchase other, more profitable products.

On the flip side, a Big Box store such as Walmart, Costco and Canadian Tire are sometimes referred to as superstores and are physically large retail establishments. Typically, they are large free-standing single floor - not part of a mall, but can be - with flat roofs, large paved parking lots with a large amount of product space, sometimes over 30, 000 square feet.

Given that, Big Box stores are able to sell a wide array of items and products in bulk, thus can offer decreased prices. From a negative perspective, there are two issues which sometimes work against Big Box stores: they tend to be non-unionized, thus union organizations are against their employment model. In addition, local retail owners - that is to say, convenient stores - justifiably worry about the possible impact of Big Box stores on their business and the downtown merchants.

Sometimes, these Big Box stores bring increased traffic, which towns have to deal with. Some communities have adopted a higher level of architectural regulations and policies to ensure that these superstores do not negatively affect the community as a whole. Although larger, newer superstores may have quite a broad range of items, with cheaper prices the personal customer touch can be lost.

The bottom line for me and many shoppers is Big Box stores offer more reasonable prices on numerous items, but I will always enjoy going into the local "Mom and Pop" store, chatting with the owners and see what hidden gems that may be for sale.

We've all heard the old saying, "You can find anything at the local store, Uncle George got it boy." It's almost as good as going to a pawn shop.

- Stan Oliver writes from Happy Valley-Goose Bay. He can be reached at

Organizations: Big Box, Trans-Labrador Highway, Walmart Costco Canadian Tire

Geographic location: Happy Valley, Goose Bay, Labrador West

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