Abstract: Turning Crisis to Advantage: Depression, War, and the Attack on Chain Retailing

Marc Levinson


The battle between independent retailers and chain stores in the United States goes back as far as 1869. Since the turn of the twentieth century, independent storekeepers and the wholesalers and manufacturers who rely on them have sought to enlist state and federal governments in the fight against the chains. These efforts have been most successful at times of crisis. World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II all led to government policies that had no direct link to retailing, but that could be wielded to the disadvantage of the chains. These policies generally sought to limit price competition in the service of other goals. Incidental to these purposes, they sheltered less efficient independent merchants from larger competitors, protecting the independents' profit margins and retarding the advance of chain retailing.