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 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 accompanying transfer of wealth out of their communities to distant financial centers.
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. National anti-trust laws also were advanced, 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 the history and lessons of this movement as we enter a new phase 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. We welcome suggested additions in any realm.
Articles & Research 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.
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.
The articles above have extensive bibliographies or footnotes, but most publications cited are accessible only via paid databases or academic libraries.
Lebhar, Godfrey M. Chain Stores in America 1859-1959, 1959. (Perspective from a professional chain store advocate — out of print, but used copies are available).
Mitchell, Stacy. Big Box Swindle: The True Cost of Mega-Retailers and the Fight for America’s Independent Businesses, 2006. 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.
Goodbye To Chain Stores
Appears on Are You Bound for Heaven or Hell: The Best of Reverend J.M. Gates. 1926.
We Don't Need Another Wal-Mart Here
“I’ve Got the Chain Store Blues” The Allen Brothers, 1930
Merle Haggard, “What Happened,” The Bluegrass Sessions, 2007
Gazette – Virginian Halifax ad, 1966
Buy Local Athens Banner
If you’re considering a more modern “buy local” campaign in your community, start here.
For those interested in exploring 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 acquired a strong fear of concentrated corporate power and had strong protections to subordinate corporations to democracy. Learn more about Our Hidden History of Corporations in the United States.
We invite your suggestions of songs, ads or articles deserving inclusion here! (Via comments below or our contact form). If we use your suggestion, you’ll get credit for free goodies of your choice from our collection of pro-local merchandise.