After nearly two months I was visiting Mahalaxmi stores, a grocery shop which has been in existence for over 40 years close to my home. I was pleasantly surprised to see the complete transformation of the shop. From a typical `hole in the wall` kind of shop with an open counter manned by the shop owner and his assistant , it has now become a closed air conditioned shop. Instead of the crowded interior with products lying haphazardly, it now had all the products stocked & displayed on neatly laid shelves offering an opportunity for the customers to help themselves. But the customers can have a choice of only the pre packed items in different SKU`s (pack sizes) and pay the MRP mentioned on the packs.
In his earlier avatar, the assistant would take the order, weigh the exact quantity required on a weighing machine, pack it in a portion of a newspaper converted into a conical paper bag, close it and wrap it around with a white string pulled from a bundle on a rod hanging from the roof. Once all the ordered items were assembled he would list them on a white blank sheet held in a pad with a clip, mark the prices and add the amounts using a pocket calculator lying next to the cash counter. Even if there are only two items, he would use the calculator. He would exchange this `Bill` for cash and hand over the items in a plastic bag.
One of the advantages of shopping in such a store was the facility to touch and feel the products, be it rice, pulses or any other item which needs to be felt, before you were satisfied with the quality and place the order. The shop also accepted orders on phone with assured door delivery and monthly payment facility for those who opted for it.
Today the calculator has been replaced by a computer with the necessary software suitable for retail operations, which also helps in getting printouts of the bills for the customers. The small 200 sq.ft shop also has four CCTV cameras which are monitored at the cash counter by the owner. While the air conditioned shop offers shopping convenience, the flip side of the self help system is that you tend to buy much more than what you came to buy. Good for the shop keeper , not so good for the customers. This is probably one idea adopted by the small shops to counter the onset of many branded department stores in and around our area.
I remember, my visits to such stores on Sundays when on my return home, I was guaranteed to get admonished by my wife for buying many items which were not in her list. She would bitterly complain about my wasting money and also adding to her workload. All the joy I derived from shopping would be dissipated in no time.
Almost all the grocery stores run by Nadar Annachis or the Muslim Bhais in my area continue to exist serving the poorer people who shop on a day to day or weekly basis buying items in smaller quantities, while the well-heeled citizens patronize the more up market department stores or even buy online; a trend catching up in a big way with the younger generation.
Does the Corner grocery store have a future? Only time can tell.
This article appeared in Adyar Times Issue dt. 6-12th August,2017 under my column `Rajan`s random Reflections`