Retail's changing face

March 28, 1994

The sale of George's IGA stores and the announcement that Arkansas-based Wal-Mart is seeking to build a second store in Eldersburg are fitting symbols of Carroll County's growth.

Independent grocers such as George's, which emphasized personal service, represent a bygone era that is quickly disappearing as exurbia's tendrils reach into Carroll. Wal-Mart, with its computer-driven efficiency underlying its folksy veneer, is the vanguard of the future style of merchandising here and elsewhere.

Although George's sold the same meats, vegetables and dairy products that other chains offered, it always kept its reputation as a local grocery. Features such as coffee shops and children's playrooms helped distinguish it from the Giant, Weis and Super Fresh competitors. The other difference was that the ownership was local and accessible.

As the grocery business has become more capital intensive, such independence is difficult to sustain, however. Not only do inventories eat up money, but grocers must invest in technology to track those inventories. Grocers also need larger stores with more shelf and refrigerated space to offer the selection that keeps customers.

To remain competitive, small independent chains such as George's end up borrowing from suppliers, who are often their landlords. Eventually, the grocers feel as though they are on a treadmill working to stay ahead of their debt payments.

After selling groceries for more than a quarter of a century, George Mezardash has decided to shrink his operations. Over the years, he disposed of a number of Little George's convenience stores.

Mr. Mezardash has decided to relinquish control over all but one of his grocery stores and a few convenience stores.

Wal-Mart, which operates a sophisticated inventory monitoring system using computers and satellites linked to its headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., has no problem raising the capital it needs. New York investment bankers are only too happy to satisfy its insatiable demand for money to expand.

It is unfortunate that George's has become an anachronism, but Carroll residents should take some comfort that dynamic merchandisers such as Wal-Mart are only too happy to move in and begin selling their wares.

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