Wednesday, February 1, 2023


Variety stores: Going, going. . . (almost) gone

By Chuck Woodbury

Maybe your grandmother shopped here. Maybe you did if you grew up in rural America. You don’t find many variety stores anymore. And when you do, boards are likely nailed against the windows.

Wal-Mart is the new Variety Store. I suppose Mom and Pop stores like this could compete better in an age where there wasn’t as much “variety” — when there were three brands of toothpaste instead of six dozen.

Woolworth was a good variety store. It had its day. After awhile there got to be too much variety for even a big store like that.

HENRY FORD DOOMED THE VARIETY STORE when he built his first Motel T car. Suddenly, people could drive a few miles to shop, spreading business around. When the roads got better, they could drive even farther. And if they didn’t want to drive at all, Mr. Sears had his catalog. Main Street became less relevant. Then Sam Walton reasoned that people would drive 50 miles to save $10 on a toaster. And so he began building Wal-Marts, quickly outpacing competitor Kmart that, alas, had the corporate IQ of a chimp.

If you ever find a variety store like the one in this photo, and it is still operating, stop by to buy something, and maybe even take a little trip back in time.


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