How being big lets you be small

by Kevin Yarr, CBCnews.ca

In my first trip ever to New York City earlier this month I was struck by a similarity to another gigantic city I am more familiar with: London.

I was surprised to find, just one minute from my hotel's front door, a small fruit and vegetable stand spilling out on to the sidewalk. Inside were a few more grocery essentials.

I had always equated this kind of small neighbourhood shop with Old World charm. Seeing the same setup in New York forced me to rethink.

I didn't have to think for long. This small shop was available within walking distance of thousands of people - not for any complex cultural reason, but simply because there were thousands of people available. It was all about population density, combined with what that population density does to the price of real estate.

Where I was staying, on the upper west side of New York City, the higher stories along Broadway were packed with apartments and condos. There were more along the side streets to the west. Densities were somewhat lower to the west, with more townhouses, but even there people were way more packed in than in my neighbourhood in Charlottetown, where my house sits on a quarter-acre lot.

The price I pay for being surrounded by all this greenery is a 15-minute walk to the nearest place to buy food: a soulless, national-chain supermarket marring the landscape with a couple of acres of parking lot in front of it (a financial impossibility in Manhattan). Does anyone ever walk there? Only rarely, I imagine.

(Have you seen an interesting example of a small food vendor making a go of it in a big city? A more traditional approach being used to sell food in a modern setting? Do you wish big grocery stores would do things differently? Tell us about it using the Comments link below.)