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Detroit: a triumph of local retailing. Sort of.

No national supermarket chains serve Detroit. Are its citizens better off?

By Tim WorstallGuest blogger / November 1, 2010

Temeka Williams (right) of Detroit uses her bridge card tokens for a purchase from Elizabeth and Gary Lauber from Sweet Delights at the Farmer's Market in Detroit, Sept. 11. No national grocery chains serve the city, leaving residents to purchase food from independents.

Carlos Osorio/AP/File

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It's one of the traditional moans here in the UK: that supermarkets just suck the life out of a community. One day there's a nice little High Street, the butcher, the baker, the ironmonger, all ready with a cheery greeting and loal prices for local people, next there's a supermarket and nothing is left but a howling economic wasteland.

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That no one ever gets forced into a supermarket seems to get missed in this story: as does the obvious point that if the inhabitants of this Barsetshire town really did value the cheery greeting and the local prices the opening of a supermarket wouldn't change their behaviour, would it? It would be the supermarket that went bust, not the local traders.

But, in an attempt to prod people a little into thinking about what it would be like with no such national chains of supermarkets, why not look at somewhere that doesn't have such? Detroit perhaps?

"Sure, there's other grocery stores, but try finding something to eat in there," said the 34-year-old skin care specialist. "You can't buy quality food in the city anymore."

She doesn't sound too happy, does she?

Detroit is one of America's largest cities, but there isn't a single grocery chain store within the city limits. Spurned by national retailers, Detroit's nearly 1 million residents instead rely on independent stores run by local entrepreneurs for their most basic needs.

But it should be a paradise according to all those anti-supermarket campaigners! And, of course, it isn't such.

So, here's my suggestion. The next group of capaigners that howl about the evils of supermarkets, we should club together to buy them a ticket to Detroit. Let them see what a city is like without them.

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