On shopping in small shops

One of the pleasures of city life? Surely connected to being able to do most everything on foot. In the western suburbs of Paris, where we used to live, every neighbourhood had a grocery story, a bakery and a pharmacy. No need for a car, no need to plan meals a week ahead, so you didn’t find you were missing some essential ingredient at the last minute. Living in the centre of Paris is the same, only more so: more pastries and bakeries (of a quality undreamed of even in upmarket Palo Alto, more markets, butchers, fresh vegetables and fruit.

Why was I thinking about this? It’s because I had to pick something up at a ‘pharmacy’ and so dropped into CVS on my way home from campus. A big, bland supermarket of stuff from notions to toothpaste, virtually no staff in the aisles, no life, just products. Sure, it’s efficient, but is efficiency what I want? Well, maybe, if I have a job and three kids to look after: my time is rationed and I try to do all the shopping in one 2-hour spree, or maybe, these days, online. I don’t have time to be waited on, to chat with other customers or the, say, pharmacist.

But there is a lot to be said for the small shop: the sense of neighbourhood for one, the civility, the give and take.