Oh No, Another Chicago Icon Meets Darwin's Law

Charles Darwin wasn’t referring to supermarkets with his survival-of-the-fittest headline, but analysts say that’s the headline that has once more kicked Jewel-Osco right in its shaky bottom line. The once premier Chicago food chain is getting its third owner in just the last few years. The reasons are easy but bloody to read — too much competition from giant discount stores and specialty food shops.

If you can remember back to when the local Jewel was your place to shop, you were present in a less brutal market setting. Until WWII there were still plenty of local mom & pop stores distinguished by their curb side stacked-boxes of tomatoes, zucchini, lettuces and eggplants with owners inside you knew would tally up your price by the same stubby-pencil with which they had been calculating for years.

No, this was not the most cost-efficient, product-effective way to buy for your family; except those owners actually thought about you as a family. After all they knew you and your kids by name for years. So what we had here was a kind of counterpoint. Not the “fittest” but just maybe the “finest” way to survive. If that is you and your fellow shoppers saw added-value in such touch-to-touch marketing.

But before we all raise a skeptical eyebrow to these all-too-generous memories of yore, a hardened survival-of-the-fittest legend like McDonald’s Fred Turner himself had a thing for “finest” as well as “fittest.” Until his recent death, Fred was the voice of McDonald’s; and for few years I was the voice of Fred whenever he had me write one of his convention speeches to the legions of applauding McDonald survivalists. The one I most recall is when he looked them in the eye at their big 25th anniversary convention: “They say nothing succeeds like success. But I say, nothing recedes like success either!”

His point? Oh they got it. Tough, efficient, street-fighting skills are all part of the big game. And yet…! We could blow this whole thing the day we dare to start acting Big rather than Small. A thought worth the attentions of supermarkets, super-PACS, and superpowers alike….

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