Anti-Chain Movement of the 1920s-30s: Articles, Books, Ads and Music

Corporate chains spread rapidly across the U.S. retail sector during the 1920s, increasing their market share from about 4% to 20%. The trend sparked a vigorous response, as some 400 communities formed coalitions expressly to fight chain proliferation. Local alliances of small business owners and concerned citizens drove the passage of many public policy measures to limit the spread of chains and the export of wealth from their communities to distant corporate headquarters.

Many state legislatures capped the number of outlets a chain could operate, enacted progressive (size-based) taxes on chain stores or limited the scope of activities chains could engage in. Lawmakers also pushed federal anti-trust legislation, aiming to neutralize both legitimate marketplace advantages and anti-competitive power wielded by many chains.

So what happened?  The first few articles below are excellent sources for learning history and lessons of this movement as we advance a new wave of antitrust organizing. For fun, we sprinkled in some historic examples of ads and music touching on the independent v. chain battles, including contemporary songs. 

 

Articles & Research Papers


Academically-oriented Papers

Schragger, Richard C.  The Anti-Chain Store Movement, Localist Ideology, and the Remnants of the Progressive Constitution, 1920-1940 (pdf), Iowa Law Review, 2005.

Scroop, Daniel, The Anti-Chain Store Movement and the Politics of Consumption (pdf), University of Sheffield, 2008.

Ingram, Paul and Rao, Hayagreeva.  Store Wars: The Enactment and Repeal of Anti-Chain-Store Legislation in America (pdf), American Journal of Sociology, September 2004.

The articles above have extensive bibliographies or footnotes, but most publications cited are accessible only via paid databases or academic libraries.

Commentary and Analysis

Price, Ben.  A Movement Diverted: How Corporations Neutralized Anti-Chain Store Campaigns, CELDF.org, March 2005.

Mattera, Philip.  Fighting Chain Stores Past and Present, Corporate Research Project, July 2005.

Feldman, Brian S. The Decline of Black Business and What it Means for American Democracy. March 2017, Washington Monthly.

 

Books


Lebhar, Godfrey M.  Chain Stores in America 1859-1959, 1959. (Perspective from a professional chain store advocate out of print).

Mitchell, Stacy.  Big Box Swindle: The True Cost of Mega-Retailers and the Fight for America’s Independent Businesses2006.  Chapter 8 details the anti-chain movement and contemporary policy from a pro-local perspective.

Levinson, Mark.  The Great A&P and the Struggle for Small Business in America, 2012.

Spector, Robert. Category Killers: The Retail Revolution and Its Impact on Consumer Culture, 2005.

Music


Goodbye To Chain Stores

by Reverend J.M. Gates | Are You Bound for Heaven or Hell: The Best of Rev. J.M. Gates. 1926

We Don't Need Another Wal-Mart Here

by Danny Green (written by Rory Feek) | Giantslayer Records, 2006

“I’ve Got the Chain Store Blues” The Allen Brothers, 1930
Merle Haggard,  “What Happened,” The Bluegrass Sessions,  2007
David Wilcox,  “East Asheville Hardware,” 1996 Lyrics

Ads


Gazette – Virginian Halifax ad, 1966

Buy Local Athens Banner

 

Gazette – Virginian ad, 1925
Brooks, ME historical society sign

If you have ideas for this page or questions on the topic, please contact the page author, Jeff Milchen. If you’re considering a more modern “buy local” campaign in your community, start here

For those interested in earlier U.S. anti-monopoly organizing, we suggest reading The Populist Moment by Lawrence Goodwyn (overview here), which covers the Populist Movement of the 1880s-1890s. 

The founders of the United States feared concentrated corporate power and enacted strong protections to subordinate corporations to democracy.  Learn more about The Hidden History of Corporations in the United States. 

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