There is a street wisdom that these little urban corner stores jack their prices to take advantage of what is basically a captive audience (or maybe to balance shoplifting loss). I set out to see how much this might be true by comparing prices on a few staples at 10 neighborhood stores across the area.
To set the parameters: I compared prices on 4 items (1/2 gallon of whole milk, a loaf of bread, a box of Cheerios, can of Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Sou) at 10 stores across the area. My assumption was that each place would have these items, or something comparable . I also took notes on the general feel of the places, and what other aspects differentiated them (good or bad).
I’ve always kind of lumped together the little stores that dot the neighborhood, but in getting inside this subset of the 20 or 30 that serve the area, it became clear that there is a vast qualitative difference between the best and worst of them. The main difference isn’t necessarily pricing, though, but the selection offered of goods offered and environment of the store.
NOTE: The originally published graphic had the price of regular milk incorrect for Union Market at $2.99.
For reference above, the Virginia State Milk Commission reports that the average statewide price for a 1/2 gallon of whole milk in October 2014 was $2.60, with a range of $1.99-$3.24.
The Market on Main Street sells a 1/2 gallon of milk for $2.39, generic bread for $1.00, Cheerios for $3.99 (12 oz), and Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup for $1.19.
A funny thing is, the bulk of the “corner stores” are actually on corners. These are usually the smallest of the bunch and are essentially convenience stores – quickie marts slinging beer and chips and candy and lottery tickets. Night & Day, Clay Street Market, Ocean Grocery, Blue Wheeler, and Mari’s Mini Mart all fall into this category, with 2 or 3 rows of goods and walls of coolers. Still, some of these stores are better/worse than others.
Blue Wheeler on Marshall Street, Mari’s Mini Mart on Q Street, and the Ocean Grocery at 25th & Venable are poor examples of markets. In all 3, the majority of the dry goods for sale did not have prices marked, and they had extremely limited selections of goods (even for small stores). What they did offer, though, was priced in line with the other stores in the area. They are basically easy places to stop for cigarettes, beer, and chips/sugar.
Clay Street Market is a cut above. Their weekly delivery of fresh, local produce from Tricycle Gardens is something that each of these stores should be trying to get in on.
Another store worthy of mention is Union Market, though they are a difficult comparison. Their selection of specialty items, including organic, local, and gluten free are unavailable anywhere else in the area, and they offer a selection of every day produce.
The best of the small stores surveyed is the Stop & Go at Mechanicsville and Fairfield. The Stop & Go has a wide array of dry goods, including a broad selection of canned food and useful cold-weather clothing, with all of the prices clearly marked and competitive in each category. This was also one of the stores with no loitering on the sidewalk out front.
Head and shoulders above all of the neighborhood markets, though, is Chimbo on Chimborazo Boulevard. Taking advantage of it’s larger size, Chimbo is an actual working grocery store with a selection of items and produce unmatched by any other store in the area excepting the Market on Main Street. The store has a stellar produce section, meats, dry goods in a variety of sizes and brands, a security guard, checkout lines, carts, parking, and is clean. You can feed a family by shopping at Chimbo. In addition, their prices are among the best in the neighborhood – better than the Market on Main Street at times.