Long before Amazon made shopping at big-box stores and malls seem old fashioned, "chain stores" were the disruptive force in American commerce. In the early 1900s, the relatively low prices offered by chains such as A&P, F.W. Woolworth, J.C. Penney and Walgreens started to threaten the survival of local merchants who lacked the same buying power. Nevertheless, Gallup polling in 1937 found only 30% of Americans in favor of prohibiting chain stores from operating in their state.
|Gallup, May 12-17, 1937|
Also, in a different 1937 Gallup poll addressing the chain-store issue, many more Americans said that "big business concerns" were a good thing (65%), rather than a bad thing (22%), for the country.
On the other hand, Americans weren't averse to policies protecting traditional shopkeepers. The same poll showing favorable attitudes toward big business found 56% of U.S. adults in favor of requiring chain stores operating in their state to pay special taxes. Such taxes (often graduated based on the number of stores) were fairly common in states and municipalities across the country by 1937 as a way to discourage large chains from taking hold.
|Gallup, May 26-31, 1937|
According to one review of the history of chain stores, "In the 1920s and 1930s, independent druggists and grocers urged Congress to pass legislation that might halt or slow the growth of chain-store firms. Neither the movement nor the resulting legislation -- notably the Robinson-Patman Act (1936) and Miller Tydings Act (1937) -- proved effective in stopping the growth of chains or, more importantly, in providing significant help to smaller, independently owned stores."
In the end, the appeal of cheaper prices, greater convenience and more autonomy for customers to browse merchandise -- all features offered by chain stores -- revolutionized the way people shopped nearly a century ago and continues to shape retail habits today.
These data can be found in Gallup Analytics.
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