i have a close relationship to mom and pop because i used to work for mom and pop back in high school. it was a small shop around the corner from my house in south philly, italian flag painted on the floor of the storefront. we took pictures of our frequent customers and would hang them on the walls; it was as much their shop as it was our own.

sal — the owner of the store and my boss — wasn’t a young man anymore, and you could tell that time wore on him harsher than to most people. when you work your whole life — from the time you’re 5 years old till you’re in your 60s — buying and selling produce for your family’s storefront and also a large group of independent restaurants, your body starts to wear out. in some ways it sounds a romantic story — the american spirit lived out by italian immigrants: unquestionable work ethic. uncompromising reserve — but here’s where the story turns tragic.

i write a lot on this blog about how to manage your time effectively. how to work with others more efficiently. how to communicate with others more.. gooder! i spend a lot of time talking about how to make business better, and how to make yourself better. in many ways, however, these same things that i talk about are the reasons that sal was — and countless others were — forced to close up shop.

there were days when i was working at sal’s that i didn’t have time to breathe, let alone restock the shelves. sometimes, i wouldn’t even stock the produce in our cases. i would be so busy that i would sell fruit and vegetables straight out of the boxes and sacks that we bought them in that morning. unless you get it direct from the farm, it doesn’t get much fresher than that. as i look back on it, those were the days that i miss the most. i liked coming home from work on a saturday afternoon at 3:30 completely dog-tired and do nothing but shower and turn on the penn state game. but as time went on and more of our customers began to either leave the area or — sad to say —pass away from age, my days got less and less busy.

why would people set aside half their day to head down to our shop to buy their fruits and vegetables, swing on by the bakery a few blocks away to get bread, stop off at the local convenience store for everyday items like soaps and shampoo, and head down to the deli for their cold cuts for the week? supermarkets became more and more popular with younger people trying to maximize their efficiency. “i’ll stop by the acme this morning on the way to work because there’s an ATM there and i need peppers for tonight.” 2 birds with one stone. get cash money for your pockets, and food for the dinner plate that evening. it wasn’t that what the supermarkets were selling was any better than what we were — in some ways it was far worse.

each season brings its own produce. tomatoes are always better in the summer,cantaloupestoo. cherries were best in the spring, and apples and pears delicious in the fall. but these large supermarkets buy literally tons of food that they freeze in warehouses or import from vendors who operate out of exotic locations with a far different terroir that yields less abundance just so that they can stock their shelves full no matter what time of year. you can find strawberries in the middle of winter now. ever wonder how that’s possible?

the customers slowed from a roaring river to a sporadic stream. people complained that his prices weren’t as cheap as the supermarkets that buy in bulk, or that his selection wasn’t as hearty as the shelves in shoprite filled with defrosted produce. it wasn’t long after i graduated high school and moved to penn state for college that sal had to close his shop down. a shining gem of what america was all about — a diamond forged under years of pressure — was cast aside by so many.

who killed mom and pop? we all did. every one of us in search of a faster way to get the same things done, not really caring what we got in return — as long as the price was right. when wepursueways to make ourselves and our businesses more efficient, faster, or cheaper — always remember what the true cost is:


don’t be mesmerized by the illusion that things are exactly the same wether your choose vendor A in china at price x, or vendor B in huntsville alabama at price x+1. don’t think that the data analyst with 3 years’ experience that you pick from the market at $40k a year is going to produce as much as the data analyst with 3 years’ experience that you pick from the market at $65k a year.

everything has a trade off. just be careful what you’re trading away.