Malls, branded shops, factory outlets, supermarkets, one-stop shops, on-demand smartphone apps and the like put up their shutters. Now, the convenience stores that have almost been turfed out by big names and periodically went out of business are once again making a go of themselves, lively and vigorous. Once a colourful and vibrant hallmark of typical rural and suburban life, these corner stores did not shut up overnight. But a combination of factors over the decades led to the transition from departmental stores to novel atmospheres, big and colourful, where we also hear foreign words that are exotic brands. Known to all, shopkeepers could not fend off competition from big business that changed consumer habits. Nothing wrong with opting for comfortable brands till we know how much is enough.
The self-described minimalist in me prevents me from going farther from home that requires a drive or ride to purchase anything that I can find at the store round the corner. Love affairs with local stores never end because they were more than just selling and buying. Yes, they were social by nature. People knew the shopkeepers, and vice versa. People visiting the stores fondly addressed the keeper as annachi, greeted each other by name, exchanged gossip and we got totally oriented as to what was happening in the entire neighbourhood or town. Regulars even purchased on credit. Many came just to pick up a copy of the daily newspaper. While growing up, many of us would have experienced that first taste of independence in walking or riding our cycles to the local shop, often with a family member or a pet in tow. Mostly, shopping meant picking up a few items for parents as well as the obligatory coconut candy, lollipop, a Cadbury or something that’s denied to us. Strolling downtown Nagercoil to Warrens, an ice cream parlour, on Saturdays with my bestie to hang out for hours and hours is such a vivid hometown memory I cherish.
The humble corner store is having a revival of sorts much to my delight. Since COVID-19 has stopped people from looking for more than just essentials, all seek a peaceful, safe and quiet shopping in departmental stores which exist as a ‘social-glue’ amidst social distancing. Unlike olden days, the shopkeeper doesn’t know shoppers’ preferences or have prepared any purchase in advance to be readily delivered. Groceries from any corner store are also meant to sustain proper social relations and the present generation is getting the first taste of it.
Dr Elsa Lycias Joel holds a doctorate in biotechnology, and writes for Delhi Press. She has worked with New Indian Express as sub editor. She has also authored a children’s book Perfect Endings signed by former President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam.